Stop framing tent cities for murder

Wanda Stopa was a founding member of Sanctuary Tent City, a camp in a wooded area off of King George Boulevard in Surrey. Sanctuary Tent City survived for almost a year, until the City of Surrey bulldozed the camp at the end of November 2019.

An edited version of this letter was published by the Surrey Now-Leader. We are republishing it here because it speaks to a broader problem of media smears against self-organised tent cities, framing them for violence that they do not create. The reality is that tent cities help to defend unhoused people against structural violence through building community structures of accountability and creating spaces of resistance against police, bylaw, and vigilante attacks. – Editors

I’m Wanda Stopa, the founder of Sanctuary Tent City. I’m writing in response to Surrey Now-Leader’s Dec 16th article, “Second-degree murder charge laid in Carlos Palafox homicide in Surrey.”

Author Tom Zytaruk refers to the area where the homicide took place as “The Sanctuary,” as have other news outlets, like Global News and The Vancouver Sun.

I want to hold the media accountable for its double standards. When Sanctuary Tent City was up and running, journalists did not want to refer to our community by its name. When the media refuses to use the names homeless people give to our tent cities, they delegitimize our resistance. That refusal helps break up tent cities.

Now that there is news of a murder, all of a sudden our tent city is being associated with a violence that has nothing to do with us. For one thing, that kind of violence never would have happened in our tent city, and for another, it happened in a privately owned lot – not the public property our tent city was located on. Finally, Sanctuary Tent City was displaced by the City in winter 2019. The murder happened in June 2020.

At its peak, there were nearly 50 people living at our camp. Former residents are coming to me and asking me why the media is dragging our name through the mud. It’s upsetting a lot of us. We’re tired of the way journalists uphold the status quo and stigmatize homeless people. Zytaruk writes “Palafox’s body was found in a wooded area known as ‘The Sanctuary.'” I want to ask Zytaruk: “known” by who? I’m part of the street community and I can tell you, we don’t call that “wooded area” “The Sanctuary.” I’d be willing to bet that it’s the police who suddenly decided to call the site of a murder “The Sanctuary.”

Shame on journalists who uncritically follow the lead of the police and perpetuate the association between homeless people and violence.


Wanda Stopa
Red Braid Alliance

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