“I’m here for hope”: Ten Year Tent City defies eviction threat with the power of community

Volunteers are greatly needed at the Ten Year Tent City on an ongoing basis. Sign up at http://signup.com/go/YYCJbSf for shifts.. Supporters are asked to be present at site on Monday morning and every morning following (until further notice) at 8:30am as the police are expected to show up at any time and evict the residents. Residents are also asking supporters to sign up for regular volunteer shifts that consist of clean-up, moral and community support, help guard the space against police, fire, and social worker invaders, and other supports for residents to defend and improve the camp. 

Ten Year Tent City launched on the morning of Friday April 28th and received its first eviction notice from the City of Vancouver by the end of the workday. The trespass order was issued for 9am of Saturday, April 29th. Thanks to the forty supporters who showed up on Saturday morning to rally in support of the camp, the residents were able to defy the order, against possible police action. As the rally began, a VPD officer pulled up to “count heads” and left when he saw the level of support.

The ongoing support of the community is required in order to continue to fight off the City’s displacement threat. Residents and supporters gathered inside the fenced off City-owned lot at 950 Main st. Speakers began by explaining the name of the 10 Year Tent City. In 2007, in the run up to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, a Tent City started at the same site and ended with the government promise to build social housing on the empty lot to house the homeless.

Dave Diewert with the Alliance Against Displacement dedicated the Tent City to “the 3 Indigenous homeless men who led this fight 10 years ago and who we lost: Dwayne, Noah, & Ashley.” The Tent City is named Ten Year Tent City to commemorate and continue their effort. “It was outrageous that this site was empty in 2007. It’s more outrageous that it’s still empty 10 years later,” Dave added.

Jack Gates, an organizer with SRO Collaborative and a tenant at the Regent hotel, said: “I couldn’t sleep last night thinking how the City won’t use bylaws to clean up the Regent but they’ll use them to break the tent city.” Jack’s observation shows that the City uses bylaws to manage the homelessness crisis caused by the real estate economy and all levels of government.

With BC Housing closing HEAT shelters at the end of Winter, it is not clear where the BC Liberal government expects residents to move to. “People in the DTES can no longer find shelter or a place to stay. 85% of hotel rooms rents are more than $425 a month” Lenee with Carnegie Community Action Project said. But Christy Clark and Gregor Robertson don’t care. They are more interested in harassing the homeless than housing them. As DJ Larkin with Pivot Legal Society said, “the fact is that being homeless is illegal.” Police and bylaw officers pushing people out of places where they can feel safe with their loved ones.

Joyce, a resident, who was previously at 58 W Hastings Tent City, said that after she was evicted from that site she was promised housing, but was instead put in a shelter. “We are human beings not animals, we need homes”; and shelters are not homes. Sarah, another resident, said: “They need to build more housing for families, where I can be with my kid and my boyfriend together.”

Lenee said that to end homelessness all levels of government need to come together to build 10,000 units of social housing every year at welfare rate. BC Liberal cuts social housing programs means there are no homes to move into, and persistent police harassment and brutality means that homeless people are constantly displaced within Vancouver; residents have found that their only option is a tent city that they make for themselves. Crystal, a resident said: “I’m trying to get all my family here to join this tent city because this is the place we need to survive, and to be safe together.”

The residents have been working hard since Friday to build a safe and livable environment where everyone’s basic needs are met, food and supplies are shared, decisions are made communally, and everyone looks after one another. There has been a lot of support from the community at large, with tens of volunteers and supporters present on site at any time and donations flying in on online and offline channels to meet the day to day needs of the camp.

As the Tent City starts its 4th day, the morale of the community is high. The space has been made beautiful with painted murals and signs, and replenished with donated supplies. Everyone is hopeful that this will be a place where they can settle down for a while. As Rick, a resident of 950, said: “I’m here at this tent city because I have a sense of frustration about broken promises from the government. I’m here for hope.”