In colonial capitalist land, Friday is fun times. For people at tent cities, Friday is the time when you get extra-fucked over by bureaucrats who set things up to happen just before they take the weekend off to go pursue work-life-balance.
THE NEW DEADLINE IS MAY 20…
On April 25th the provincial government, aka Nastily Displacing People (NDP), issued a legal order stating people must leave three tent cities (Topaz and Pandora here, Oppenheimer on the mainland) by noon on May 9. Minister of Social Development & Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson promised that everyone at these tent cities would first be offered space at a temporary shelter with a commitment to longer-term housing. In his words: “Our priority is your health and safety…You will not be alone, and you will not be abandoned”.
Well, he was right about one thing: people living at Topaz and Pandora sure haven’t been left alone. HL Demolition, accompanied by VicPD, has been a constant presence with their crews setting up fencing, spraypainting around people and their tents to mark who they think is new (and therefore not allowed on site), destroying people’s belongings, and pressuring camp residents to leave long before the actual deadline.
On May 8 the government finally admitted what everyone else knew back in April: they couldn’t make their own May 9 deadline. As of 4 PM on May 8, only 100 of 360 people identified as living at Topaz and Pandora had been moved into shelters.
So, that afternoon, the NDP created another fake solution by issuing a new “Encampment Health and Safety Order” to replace the April 25 legal order. The new order is mostly the same, but it changes the evacuation deadline for Topaz/Pandora to noon on May 20.
…OR IS THE DEADLINE RIGHT NOW??
Not to be thwarted in their eviction plans, on the afternoon of May 9 (the original deadline) and May 10 the demolition crew, accompanied by VicPD, stepped up harassment of residents to try to get them to leave now. This follows a pattern in previous tent cities (also displaced by this same contractor) where people’s lives are made so difficult that they leave “voluntarily”, avoiding the nasty spectacle of police obviously chasing homeless people from park to park.
Whatever spin you try to put on a coerced-but-not-handcuffed-eviction, the impact is the same. Dudes in Hazmat suits looming over someone’s tent with cops by their side, saying “you’re not allowed to be here and you have to go somewhere else”, is not much different than dragging people off. Threatening to confiscate your tent, sleeping bag, and all your belongings if you stay doesn’t give people an actual choice.
The reality remains: BC Housing has not offered everyone shelter, let alone housing. The repeated promise to not displace until everyone is housed simply isn’t true. BC Housing confirmed on Friday that there are no new prospects for the 260 people still at Pandora/Topaz beyond the confirmed 187 spaces that will be opening at four sites this week (Travelodge, Save On arena, Indigenous co-ed shelter, and women-only shelter). So the 73+ people at Pandora and Topaz, and the 100+ at other locations, will go…where?
an office cubicle is not a home
At a Friday morning meeting BC Housing affirmed that people on their list as having been at Topaz/Pandora before the first order came down April 25 will get one take-it-or-leave it offer of a space. Even if the space that is offered isn’t safe or doesn’t fit for them, if they turn down that offer, they will be considered to have been offered but refused shelter and can’t stay at Topaz/Pandora past the new May 20 deadline.
Things got even more surreal this week when BC Housing released pictures of the new spaces at the arena. Their idea of COVID-safe shelter: put 45 people in a giant shared indoor space with people living in office cubicles. Now that’s work-life balance. Or maybe cubicle walls is what “wraparound supports” means? But not to worry, if you get bored you can always go up into the stands and eat popcorn while you watch other homeless people sleep. Welcome to the arena!
gutting community services
It’s bad enough that people are being constantly moved without any say in where they’ll be moved to or what kind of housing they need. Worse still, service models are hastily being imposed that will have big implications for many people, who have had no say in how any of this has gone.
At a meeting last Friday with Island Health, BC Housing, municipal government reps, and service providers, the Indigenous Harm Reduction Team asked, “What happens to the many other people who are not at Topaz and Pandora and have no or reduced care as result of reorienting to all the new shelters? How will people living in other parks, people in shelters, and people in low-income housing now access doctors, nurses, and, harm reduction / overdose prevention workers?”
We posted last week that organizations that were already under-resourced before COVID have been pushed far beyond sustainable capacity by this crisis and don’t have enough staff to fully do community-based services and on-site services. With the scramble to set up services at the 7 new temporary sheltering sites, while still maintaining services for those at Pandora and Topaz, community service delivery has been completely gutted.
Yet Island Health dismisses this as a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats situation. Their response to IHRT’s question was that focusing on 260 people at two tent cities will result in more resources and a “stronger, more comprehensive system that will in time not be focused on those people but everyone”.
We’re big fans of magic, but not magical thinking. Deciding that some people get intensive access and others get none is not systems improvement. Imposing a one-size-fits-all model, with no discussion with the street community, replicates colonial and paternalistic models that position homeless people as broken and in need of professional management.
Where to from here?
This week 187 people are on the move to the new indoor spaces. Many others are, as a result of government harassment, moving to other locations. We are pushing for decision-makers to work with people living outside to find out what they think should happen next. We’re also supporting frontline workers who are trying their best to advocate in this fucked up situation.
People living at Topaz have lots to say about this process and we are excited to share their beautiful, brilliant post in the next few days. Typing out their comments has been, by far, the best part of the weekend. As always, the street community is so brilliant and clear about what is happening and what needs to change. Thank you for the inspiration!