AAD Statement on the involuntary decampment of DTES homeless encampment
This morning at 7:00am, Tuesday December 19, 2017, Sugar Mountain Tent City was finally crushed. Originating in Ten Year Ten City, the seven and a half month protest represented the political struggle of homeless communities to form their own centers of survival. Today, the Canadian State and its supporters have triumphed in increasing?homelessness.
As the first snow of the year touches the ground, the last remaining residents at Sugar Mountain are forced to take down their tents and find a new place to ‘call home’. Wade, one of the original Sugar Mountain residents, says they are moving under a bridge to keep out of the snow. Other residents have been put in jail, some do not know what they are going to do, and many have chosen to enter the shelter system they resent because it is the only alternative given by the City of Vancouver, the NDP, and the Liberals other than freezing to death.
10 Year Tent City and Sugar Mountain did not fail. These tent cities were organized as a fight back against the normalization and disappearance of homelessness in public consciousness; these tent cities are responsible for keeping homelessness and poverty up front as a public issue – evidence of this was the ease with which we drew media attention consistently through the duration of the camp’s existence. Carlos, a resident of Sugar Mountain said on Friday, “this camp is important because it is in the heart of the City where capitalists are creating homelessness. We have to make that obvious.”
The political work of supporting self-organized tent cities has had a bearing (which no one can exactly measure) on setting the NDP government’s approach towards homelessness. We introduced the “modular housing” demand and Sugar Mountain contributed towards winning billions of dollars to be released in this direction.
Yet, the breakup of Sugar Mountain represents the continuation of the government policy of hiding homelessness rather than confronting and ending poverty. Since the fall rains and cold weather began the City of Vancouver and Province of BC have opened hundreds of temporary and transitional shelter beds in order to cover up the homelessness crisis they have no intention of ending. We know that homeless people hate this policy; that it is humiliating; that it is disgusting and inhuman; that it doesn’t work; and that homeless people are committed to fighting to end it.
The City and Province have tried to neutralize and spin around criticisms of the shelter system by reforming the management style of shelters. For instance, many winter shelters now allow pets and couples and storage of belongings. These modifications are representative of our resistance to the conditions imposed upon us and the unwillingness of the Canadian government to present actual solutions to a major crisis of capitalism and colonialism: the ever-expanding homelessness population.
The tent city tactic for fighting austerity policies demonstrates the contradiction homeless activists are forced to face: the ‘choice’ between health and survival, and political goals. The State and capital have made the emancipation of Indigenous and low-income people directly oppositional to our immediate safety in attempt to shut down the struggle for freedom before it can even start. Alliance Against Displacement unreservedly supports the decisions of homeless people who are facing unrelenting attacks by the State and the weather to accept shelter beds over pneumonia. The breakup of Sugar Mountain Tent City does not represent an end of residents’ determination to abolish the shelter system – it represents the coercive power of that system.
This fight has exposed the reality that the Canadian government is more interested in utilizing its resources to destroy collective power than promote the democratic self-expression of the most vulnerable communities within its colonial borders, that it will let people die if it means maintaining the facade that homelessness doesn’t exist. AAD is committed to continuing the fight against state strategies of displacement and containment, against sophisticated Vision-NDP poverty cover up efforts, and alongside Indigenous and non-native working class homeless communities for the power we need to end poverty, and with it, capitalism and colonialism.