People with lived experience of homelessness walking for justice

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Image: Used with permission of the Poor Persons Walk.

Kym Hines, Hugh Lampkin and Cynthia Travers are social justice activists who have lived experience of homelessness. Hines is an anti-poverty activist involved in a number of groups in Victoria, British Columbia. Lampkin is the vice-president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (or VANDU), which does work related to social justice, drug policy and harm reduction. Travers has been active in multiple projects related to homelessness and poverty in Kamloops, B.C. Both Hines and Travers are also active participants in the Lived Experience of Homelessness Network. Scott Neigh interviews them about the Poor Persons Walk, an action taking place later in July in a number of communities in British Columbia.

One big part of our society's response to homelessness and poverty -- that is, when we don't just ignore such things completely -- is to blame the people who face them. This happens in obvious ways in responses that are harsh and punitive but also in more coded ways in many responses that seem to be more sympathetic but that focus on charity rather than on justice. Too often, those of us who are not homeless read these experiences into a framework that attributes them to bad choices and bad luck, rather than seeing that it is systems that we could collectively challenge and change that push people into poverty and homelessness -- from an economy that depends on some people living in poverty, to a lack of affordable housing, to inadequate supports for women and children facing gendered and sexual violence, to inadequate and often harmful systems for responding to mental health issues and addictions, to the founding colonization and genocide that have made North America what it is today.

The idea for the Poor Person's Walk began in a conversation between Hines and another person with lived experience of homelessness, Al Wiebe. The idea was inspired in part by the U.S.-based Poor People's Campaign led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the late 1960s as a multi-racial movement for social and economic justice (which they later learned has been revived by a new generation of organizers in the current era). Hines put the call out through the growing networks of people with lived experience of homelessness, and got an enthusiastic response.

The details were still evolving at the time of the interview, but the plan is to begin the walk on July 25 in Victoria. It will last for five days on Vancouver Island, travelling to different communities and neighbourhoods. In each location, the plan is to create opportunities to have conversations among people with lived experience of homelessness; to engage in dialogue with a range of other organizations, from faith groups to unions; and, to host workshops on a range of related topics, including decriminilization of drugs, rights related to housing, the overdose crisis, and so on. The march in Vancouver will bring together VANDU, tenants groups, and other popular organizations to do something similar. The plan is for the Victoria walkers to take the ferry across and meet the Vancouver walkers, and for them to proceed together to a final desination in the community of Surrey, where homeless people are currently facing even higher levels of stigma and repression than they do everywhere else. Similar walks may be held elsewhere, though plans in other communities -- including Kamloops -- are at an earlier stage.

The goal for the walk is to give people with lived experience of homelessness a chance to share their experiences, and to build skills and relationships, both among themselves and with sympathetic allies in the broader community. A key element will be elevating the voices and stories of people with lived experience as central to any approach to addressing homelessness. And the hope is that in so doing, it will be possible to weave together concern not just for poverty, homelessness, and housing, but for other important issues on the West Coast like protecting the salmon, stopping pipelines, decriminalization, ending racist policing, and respecting Indigenous sovereignty. They hope to advance a vision of collective care and support, in the face of a society that currently pushes its most vulnerable members into homelessness and other forms of violence and harm.

I speak with Hines, Lampkin and Travers about homelessness and the complex issues with which it intertwines, and about the upcoming Poor Persons Walk on the West Coast. And please note that the first section of the interview includes them telling parts of their own stories -- sadly, much abbreviated from the interview due to time constraints -- and that listeners should be advised that some of those stories deal with difficult, painful experiences like interpersonal violence, sexual abuse, addiction and suicide.

Image: Used with permission of the Poor Persons Walk.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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