rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Victoria's Tent City community provides shelter and dignity to those without homes

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: IntentCity.ca

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Right now in Victoria, British Columbia over 100 individuals have created a community on the courthouse lawn. It's a community like most others -- except, everyone is homeless.

You may have heard about the community in the news: that it's full of crime, a safety hazard, or perhaps that it's a costly nuisance to the neighbourhood. You may have read news stories that portray the tent city through a lens of contempt and stigma. But this isn't the real story.

We want to turn your attention to the human reality in that camp because these are people with lives, stories, families and rights. They are not simply a nuisance to be brushed aside.

Homelessness is not going away anytime soon. On any given night in 2016 over 1,000 people in Victoria are forced to turn to temporary or emergency shelters. Every day, too many women, children and men are turned away from shelters, usually because facilities are full.

And there is a continued lack of action by B.C. to make any change. B.C. is the only province or territory in Canada that has not taken concrete steps toward a poverty-reduction strategy. The provincial emergency shelter program funds only 147 year-round emergency shelter beds in Victoria. An additional 110 seasonal spots are available on winter night -- these spots are generally mats on a floor in a communal space. The reality is that hundreds of people every year have no choice but to seek shelter in parks and public spaces, an act for which they are harassed, displaced and even ticketed.

Even if you've never experienced homelessness first hand, surely you can imagine what it's like to be denied the right to occupy public space, to be told your existence is a nuisance to others. 

This is the context for the creation of the Super InTent City community -- a space where campers say they feel respected, where they are safe, where they don't need to carry around their worldly belongings all day or line up for limited temporary shelter spots every night. 

But there's a court decision that could change everything.

On April 6, 2016 the Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court denied an injunction to remove the community and disperse Super InTent City. Now, the B.C. Government has again sought an injunction to displace the camp. This means that despite a future trial date set for September, which would determine the final future of the camp, the government may attempt to jump the gun and evict the community sooner.

It is not overstating to say that the legal decision that will follow this injunction will have serious consequences for homeless people in Canada and their human rights.

Homelessness is a violation of human rights. Like the right to freedom of speech or freedom of assembly, this is fundamentally a human rights issue. Canada has signed international treaties that legally require all levels of government (including the Government of B.C.) to ensure all persons have an adequate standard of living and live in dignity.

In reality, the act of not displacing the camp is the absolute bare minimum that the government could do to fulfill its human rights obligations to ensure that all people in the province are free of homelessness. This will take more than a piecemeal approach to opening temporary shelter spaces or an ad hoc provision of a few new units of housing -- it will take a coordinated, dedicated and properly funded strategy to provide tens of thousands of new social housing units per year until this crisis is abated.

For a nation bidding for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, you'd think Canadian governments would take our obligations more seriously. It's so visible -- this violation of human rights is so obvious. In one fell swoop, over 100 marginalized individuals may be evicted en masse. With inadequate shelter options and an almost zero per cent vacancy rate, they will again be forced to seek shelter in other public spaces -- demoralized and robbed of dignity.

So, what will it take for us to stop blaming those who are homeless and turn our attention to the real problem: the government's failure to take real, rights-based actions to end homelessness long term?

Michèle Biss is the Legal Education and Outreach Coordinator at Canada Without Poverty. DJ Larkin is a Housing Justice Lawyer at Pivot Legal Society.

This article was originally published in the Victoria Times Colonist.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Image: IntentCity.ca

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.