"Being drugged and hauled off to undergo forced treatment is not dignified.
Being forced to go to a homeless shelter is not dignified. We need to create alternatives."
NEXT MEETING : January 12, 6 pm, Camas (Kings & Quadra)
Check out the website I put together to assist with our research. It's at http://tentcity.wikidot.com. The pages on Tent City 3, Tent City 4, Camp Quixote and Camp Dignity have the most information. It's heavy on archived media archives, which tell a lot of the story, but the site is right now short on actual reports from the groups and people involved in these tent cities.
What I passed along to the group at the last meeting was that based on what I've learned of the sanctioned tent cities is that they work, are safe, are not the kind of magnets for crime and filth that politicians and police insist they are, and they are affordable. ($4000 a month for Tent City 4, which provides emergency shelter for 100 people). The downside is that the groups organizing these camps fought hard to get them established, and have had to agree to some strict conditions that many people who would want tent city would not be happy with. With the exception of Dignity Village, the camps move every 90 days and are constantly involved with the process of applying for the permits for the next location and going through the process of consulting with community members to address their fears. Sometimes there are court battles. In the end, they are allowed to stay, because crime goes down often when they arrive in a neighbourhood, and the campers have proven to be good neighbours who do much to change people's stereotypes of homeless people.
So that's the update on the planning process.
I also wanted to share some more thoughts, while I'm at it.
First of all, one of the members of our planning group was taken from the street to the Eric Martin (psychiatric centre) because she refused to go to a shelter. It has brought up a lot of things among those of us who consider this woman a friend. None of us feel that this kind of thing should be allowed to happen, but what can we do? Institutions like hospital, jail, shelters, etc, do not help people the way we would like them to.
My word of the month is dignity. This is what is missing from shelters and this is the main thing I hope we can provide for each other in this process. How do we, as a community, as a society, provide DIGNIFIED emergency housing?
Being drugged and hauled off to undergo forced treatment is not dignified. Being forced to go to a homeless shelter is not dignified. We need to create alternatives.
We may not be able to create a tent city. We have a lot of challenges to overcome. Even if we can't, we have come together as a large, diverse group to create a way that we, as a community can take on some of the work of dealing with a crisis. There must be something we can create here, even if it isn't tent city.
The bottom line for me is that homeless people should have more of a voice and a hand in creating and operating the programs that help them. What is crucial for me is that whatever gets created is a result of looking at this crisis from the perspective of the homeless and poor. Not from the perpective of a society that is fed up with the social disorder created by the homeless.
Maybe we will end up creating a network of people with spare rooms to put someone up for awhile. Maybe we'll try to take on some of the bylaws prohibiting camping in RVs or having more than 4 unrelated people in one house. Maybe it'll be a new advocacy group to take some of the work off TAPS. Maybe it'll be starting a mobile home park, building co-op housing, whatever it takes to create dignified emergency supports for people as quickly as we can. We're starting with the tent city idea because we have models to use as examples just south of us, and because there is already a large group of people working on this idea. (And it's the cheapest). If it evolves into something different, it will be because the people in need of emergency housing have asked for something different.
If things were more sane, we wouldn't need to have something like a tent city. If it costs $50,000 a year to provide services for one person on the street, why not spend that money on real housing?
If the shelters cost $65 a night per person to run, why not spend that on motel rooms or real housing?
Shelters are the most expensive way of dealing with this, but they allow the authorities the greatest amount of control. They are meant to discourage people from giving up on their jobs, to scare them into not letting themselves become homeless. There is a false believe among advocates for the shelter system that if people are too comfortable they won't have incentive to get off the streets. But we know that if you don't allow for dignity, if you don't allow for genuine REST, you can't expect people to lift themselves out of poverty.
The thing is, the kinds of situations that people like our friend in the hospital find themselves in is not just a matter of housing. We need supportive communities, and are we as a group prepared to create such a community?
The reason that many of the good ideas for housing first get shot down is lack of support. The criticism that gets leveled at the idea of putting people in motel rooms is that a few rotten apples spoil the bunch. Claims that these rooms gets trashed are made, and the people who do extend their hospitality get burnt out and refuse to open their doors anymore. And that kind of thing keeps happening because there isn't proper supports, and we are led to believe that all we can do is warehouse people in institution setting, where the only damage possible is to the person staying there.
I'm not saying we need to steer this process into creating a place for people with mental illness to go to avoid being forced into the hospital. I just wanted to point out that despite the fact we are working on a very specific thing (temporary emergency outdoor shelter, created and governed by the people using it) that we might find ourselves in a position to assist with the creation of more complex solutions, so that even if we fail at this tent city idea, we make use of the time we spend on this process.
I don't know what I'm trying to say, actually. Just sharing some of my thoughts and frustrations about the reality of poverty in this country.
Here is a comment that was forwarded to me by an anonymous person. I found the truth of it really explains what we're working against.
"Its like I have a bounty on my head, anyone that talks to me gets funding, yet if I need anything its not in the budget. These caregivers and the like get travel expenses, (I stay home) catered meals (I get the food bank), dental plan (extractions for me), and a great paycheque plus a 2010 legacy grant to ask the disabled how accessible the public toilets are for my disability. I asked for a computer and was told no, but if I were a non-profit the answer would be yes. How about a real pension and I'll hire whom I like."
Thanks for reading.
More on Coleman's modest proposal: