Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t just a homeless camp: The lifesaving need and anti-poverty struggle of Anita Place tent city

On Saturday, February 23rd, Anita Place tent city held a press conference as the City of Maple Ridge sent over fifty cops, bylaw and fire officers to seize heaters and propane from tent city residents, removing their only source of heat in the midst of a cold winter.

The following text is a transcript from what Justin, a resident of Anita Place since the second day of the camp, shared at the press conference. Justin was living at the back of the camp, in a structure the City has planned to destroy. A week after this conference and the heavy handed attack on the camp, which resulted in the arrest of six camp residents and supporters, Justin saw his home go up into flames in the middle of the night, likely the result of an arson. He survived but lost all his belongings.

Justin’s honest and spontaneous speech shows that Anita Place tent city represents more than a struggle for residents of that camp. Justin’s Anita Place is one front in a struggle against poverty, for homes for all, and for a world where no one lives under the threat of eviction and homelessness.

Justin Tottenham speaking outside Anita Place on February 23, 2019

The reason we break the rules they set for us is that we have to in order to survive. My home is one of the few structures remaining after the great flood last September. It wiped out everyone’s personal belongings. It wiped out tents, and the windstorm toppled trees, crushing other tents. All the people who were able to get their belongings to my cabin still have their stuff. Everybody else lost their ID, their wallets, any sort of sentimental objects.

The City of Maple Ridge’s rules [prohibiting us from building structures] were set up to make us fail. We are still here right now because we broke those rules. One of those structures saved two of my friends’ lives when a tree snapped and fell on them.The wood walls around them stopped that tree from crushing them. Had they not had that structure, had they followed the rules, they’d be dead right now.

If we were disbanded and set up tents throughout the town, we would be alone. People using opioids would be free to die on their own instead of being with company where we can apply Narcan and save them. And if Narcan doesn’t work, we can get an ambulance to help them. If the City comes in here and removes us, people will die in mass numbers. People use drugs because of depression, because they have been disbanded and they no longer have anywhere safe to go, and because of that, there are deaths. The City is essentially sending people to die.

I plan on staying here until the end of this camp, by whatever means. I have bound my life to the camp and I’m going to fight until the bitter end, as are a few other of my close friends. We are not going anywhere, we are going to fight for this.

This was never originally set up as a homeless camp. This was a protest against the rising cost of living in our province. Maybe you don’t realize this but over the course of the last ten years, the average household went from having to make $10-15 an hour to afford a place to above $27 an hour now. How many people do you know that get out of high school or college and make $25-plus an hour right off the bat? No, it doesn’t happen.

If you think that’s going to change, you’re fucking wrong. What’s going to happen is the cost of living is going to keep going up and up. And the more it rises, the more of you are going to be down here with us. It’s going to be a rising trend across the entire province. Don’t kid yourself. This isn’t just a homeless camp.

We need this to stop. We need the rising cost of living to stop. We need the minimum wage to rise.

The ignorant ones [Justin points at a crowd of Ridgeilantes protesting against the camp] that are talking against us don’t realize that if you have roommates, you are literally one fuck up away from any of us down here. Because all it takes is for one person to drop the ball. You guys can’t afford your rent, you can’t pay your bills, can’t get food. You are going to be down here with us. For them to be so ignorant, to think they are special, “Oh, I work my ass off”. It doesn’t matter!

Wait until the cost of living goes up another $20 an hour and the next thing you know, you guys are going to be screwed. In the future, your kids might be down here, for Christ’s sake. You guys don’t think about this.

We are not just doing this for us. Sure, a lot of us have drug addiction, a lot of us have mental problems but that’s not what this is about. This is about supporting everybody who is barely holding on, this is about fighting for their kids. Something needs to be done. If it doesn’t start here, where will it?

[Transcribed by Cecile Revaux]

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