“We’re taking back the Strip!” Surrey’s newest tent city resists displacement
After a rally against the gentrification of Whalley on Saturday, a group of homeless community members displaced two years ago from the 135A Strip set up their tents on a city-owned lot, at approximately 10716 135A Street, and proclaimed that they were not leaving.
Wanda Stopa, a leader of that long standing “Whalley Strip” said, “Tonight I’m going to set up our first tent on the Strip. We’re going to take back the Strip. I’m tired of them pushing us around, treating us like we don’t exist. They can’t push us around if we stand together!”
While Wanda spoke, Kendra set up her tent in the middle of the street, declaring her intention not to be pushed off 135A again. “They never had the right to close the Strip. They never had the right to tell us we can’t walk down this street,” she said. “They broke the law when they barricaded the Strip and pushed us out. Let’s take back the Strip!”
Over the next 36 hours the new tent city grew from a handful of tents to nearly two dozen. Residents are calling this new camp “Whalley World,” an homage to the significance of the Whalley community, a historically low-income neighbourhood that the City of Surrey has targeted for gentrifying redevelopment through their Surrey Centre Plan.
On Monday morning, Surrey Bylaw officers showed up at the gate of Whalley World and ordered everyone out. The residents were defiant, and Bylaw left. Dave Brar, a long time bylaw officer who regularly patrolled the Strip, returned at noon and told a tent city representative, “the camp is safe for today.”
One of the new camp residents, Justin, said, “We’re sick and tired of being pushed around by Bylaw.” He explained that police and Bylaw constantly patrol Whalley with street sweeps, breaking up groups of people who find places to rest, constantly moving them along, and stealing and destroying their belongings if they refuse to comply or move too slowly.
Bylaw officers pushed to know how many people in the camp need accommodations. But residents refused to answer. They told Bylaw that the camp is not just fighting for its current residents; it represents more than 1,000 people in their community who need homes, including people living on the streets, in shelters, and in institutional modular housing.
Wanda explained, “Whalley World is fighting for housing for all our community. We aren’t going anywhere, we’re going to fight for our streets and fight for our homes.”
Another camp resident named Heather said, “We let them clear the Strip two years ago because they promised us housing, but they never gave us housing.”
Kristina, one of the two women who put down tents to declare the founding of the camp, explained her motivation. “When I moved onto the Strip seven years ago, it was the first time in my life I was somewhere that I felt I belonged; the first time I felt a sense of home. They moved me into modular housing when they broke up the Strip, and they promised me they’d help me and that I’d move into regular housing in two years. I did those two years of time and they never helped me. Instead, they evicted me.”
This new tent city is a street community response to the gentrification of Whalley and Surrey’s City Centre Plan. Homeless people in Whalley say they are tired of watching luxury condo towers go up while their friends are evicted to the streets.
Heather said, “They want to put up expensive condos and they don’t listen to us when we say we don’t want expensive condos. Why should we listen to them when they tell us to pack up our tents and clear out of this lot?”
And Al, another resident, explained, “Surrey Centre is worth a shit-ton of money, that’s why they want to clear us off 135A and out of Whalley.”
At the rally Saturday where Whalley residents took a stand against gentrification, Dave Diewert, a Red Braid organizer and Whalley resident explained, “Two years ago the city attacked the 135A Strip to push out the poor and welcome in the rich. Now everyone is going to be pushed out because when the city up zones the land for condo towers, the price of the land will go up and the small owners will be pressured to sell, and the city will bring in more cops to push people out.”
Isabel Krupp, a Red Braid organizer who is supporting the new tent city, explained, “Whalley World tent city is the street community’s stand against displacement, against gentrification, against the City of Surrey’s lies and social cleansing plan.”