The Challenge Is Whether To Squat Or Deal

shakedownstaptsMicro Housing was brought to L’kwungen Territory as a result of Bobby Arbess approaching me with the idea as a member of the Committee To End Homelessness Victoria (CTEHV).

We at the CTEHV spoke about the idea of bringing Mark Lakeman who helped design and build OpportUnity Village and Andrew Heben who wrote a book “Tent City Urbanism” to Victoria.

Those of us with lived experience of homelessness and most homeless people I spoke to on streets said: “Bring it on!” I added, “It’s us who has to do that, this is not charity, this is about community working together to reclaim what is ours, home and land.”

The very reason we are even supporting a Micro-Housing Village is because the Federal and Provincial governments have been getting away with not building anywhere close to what is needed as far as social housing at 30% of low-income peoples’ incomes!

I brought Bobby to a CTEHV meeting and we got support. Mayor Lisa Helps supported us to access City Hall as requested in order to really get the ball rolling. I figured it’s best to deal with the expected backlash head on.

We met, the backlash occurred, we survived and here we are now.

We formed a Micro-Housing Steering Committee to organize our tent city. Our steering committee decided by consensus on a self-organizing harm reduction model for our tent city. This committee is made up of housed allies, some homeless, architects, builders, students, church volunteers, a city councilor, and more, working away preparing for building! The trick is ‘where’?

Meanwhile, in colonial Victoria we have many people who are institutionalized by the poverty industry and the charity model. Stigma affects us in the long run in the most hurtful ways to community.

We do not have a Carnegie Centre like in the Downtown Eastside. Our homeless are constantly shuffled around for as long as I have lived here since 1996. Criminalised illicit drug users are often barred from services and red-zoned from areas where services exist.

Many think all the homeless need is a job. Most jobs are destructive and many will no longer work them! It is time to make the economic changes necessary for us all to have a future.

We have the right to sleep from 7pm to 7am but we have no right to land or rest.

In Oregon the occupy movement helped the homeless build their own community. They are now a thriving micro house village and community.

We must go to where the poor are, find and use space to meet in and include them in every way. The trick is to organize with the homeless themselves as much and as often as possible.

On the Micro-Housing Steering Committee we have many who have worked really hard and care a great deal, some are homeless right now and I appreciate their presence and input.

The bottom line is, fall and winter is around the corner, homeless may put up tents illegally or wait for money, support – and possibly supervision – from those in power – and to build homes that local homeowners will accept.

This will take time. Can we afford to wait?

Unity is the best answer to this divide-and-rule colonial system. As we learn to live together all over, we unlearn oppressive behaviors together and empower all homeless family members to have a voice.

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