Anita Place tent city forging a new anti-poverty politics in Maple Ridge

Housed and homeless Maple Ridge residents marching together for housing and against hate

On Thursday May 11th the City of Maple Ridge staged an extra-legal attack on Anita Place Tent City. Bylaw officers backed by the RCMP sacked the camp, stealing about 10 tents unoccupied at the time they arrived, ripping down tarps, destroying the common kitchen and office area, and seizing the fence that secured the edge of the property against outside threats. They seem to have been deployed by acting Mayor Tyler Shimkw, who took the place of Mayor Read when she went into hiding because of violent threats from Ridgeilantes (Maple Ridge vigilantes) who hate homeless people and resent her support of the low-barrier shelter in town. After the bylaw assault on the camp, Shimkw, waving homeless people as a political flag towards the Ridgeilante crowd, declared that he would “move heaven and earth” to displace the camp.

In response, two days later a group of housed Maple Ridge residents organized through a Facebook page called “Support Anita Place Maple Ridge” held a rally to defend the tent city against City attacks and Ridgeilante hate. About 40 people, residents of the camp and the Rain City homeless shelter and their housed supporters, gathered outside City Hall to call for the City to protect homeless people and the camp, not to break it up. This small demonstration represents a historic change in the politics of Maple Ridge – it is the first time that housed Maple Ridge residents have organized a protest alongside homeless people, that they have united in public against Ridgilante threats of violence.

This rally shows that Anita Place tent city is forging a new politics in Maple Ridge: one where low-income people refuse to apologize for their existence, where they take up space as one group of residents among many, where hate is fought and opposed rather than navigated and accommodated. Around Anita Place tent city, low-income and working class people are gathering and rejecting the politics of hate and division fostered by the BC Liberal MLAs who would have working class people blame the visibly poor for their own insecurity. At Anita Place we are beginning to name and fight poverty and housing insecurity as a problem of capitalism, colonialism, and government austerity, not “addiction” or individual mistakes.

For years, low-income people in Maple Ridge have been abused by twin terrors – a government that has denied them basic services and left them vulnerable to violence on the street, and Ridgeilantes, a revanchist poor-bashing section of the public that is best described as an informal hate group. During the first two weeks of Anita Place tent city, as the Maple Ridge street population has fought back against abuse, these abusers have raged and lashed out. Against our rally protesting the City Bylaw attack, a group of anti-homeless bigots held a counter-protest at the fringes of our rally. About of dozen of them, uniformly dressed with low hats and sunglasses, sneered and whistled at our rally and shouted occasional insults at speakers. We, nevertheless, stood together, spoke out, and marched, filling the streets of Maple Ridge with calls for homes not hate.

The speeches made by homeless people and their allies at this rally are a document of the resistance of homeless people in Maple Ridge, and the beginning of a new unified social movement against poverty and homelessness.

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