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Faith, Hope, and Charity - alive and well at St. Ann's Tent City PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Monday, 26 September 2005 09:08
Faith, Hope, and Charity - alive and well at St. Ann's Tent City

PEJ News - Janine Bandcroft - The 'Big One' could hit anytime - earthquake, flood, snowstorm, downsizing, outsourcing, lock-out, medical or dental emergency, lack of public resources, depression brought about by pondering the endless possibilities of the former - are you prepared?

On the morning of September 26th I left my warm Oak Bay bed (where I was house-minding for a friend, dreaming of refusing to sign a contract with Hanes after learning they were involved with mining) and cycled downtown in the chilly morning air to St. Ann's Academy.  I've been interested in the Right to Sleep campaign (which is more of a spontaneous movement bred of necessity than an orchestrated campaign) since I met David Arthur Johnston over a year ago.  David has been arrested many times (for details, and information about the new documentary, visit loveandfearlessness.com) because he insists on sleeping at St. Ann's Academy - a publically owned space, managed by the Provincial Capital Commission.  David's currently staying away from St. Ann's, while the courts decide what to do with him, but his 'campaign' has been taken up by a number of interesting street folk.

The morning chill lingered in the air, when I arrived at St. Ann's around 8 am, and it wasn't just emanating from the authorities.  Only a handful of the original 20 or so overnight 'campers' remained - these were willing to risk arrest.  They believe they're entitled to sleep on public property, and willingly shared the story of the night before.



Sarah, age 17, said:

"We all had our blankets out, and first they (the police) came around 8 o'clock, and told us we're allowed to be here until 11 pm - so they were going to give us to 11 but we had to be out by then.  And we stayed here and we all started falling sleep, and first we were talking to a security guard who understood our cause and he thought there was no point in getting us to leave because we'd just come back.  So he said that if we could get out by 6 o'clock in the morning that'd be okay.  Then another lady came, she's a manager I think, and she wasn't having that so she called the cops and they gave us until 12, just enough time for us to start falling asleep, then they came up here with their big cars and lights ... we actually had a light show with a big cloth, a little puppet show.  I personally just started drumming and chanting because that's all I could do."

Conrad, age 25, added:

 "He kept flashing his lights and everyone was waking up ... that's pretty much when we talked to the officers, we talked to them like they were people, and we asked them about the [David's] case and got 'I'm not going to talk to you about that' as an answer."

At this point Kris Andersen appeared, and spoke on behalf of the Provincial Capital Commission:

"There's no camping between 11 and 7, that means you're not allowed to be here between 11 and 7 sleeping.  We also have a couple of other bylaws, one that talks about nuisance and one that talks about impacting on the use of the property by others, and those are the ones that are a concern to us.  So the deal is, if you pick up all your stuff and leave in a timely fashion this morning, I don't have an issue with that.  If you're here during the day, without sleeping bags and bedding, that's okay, but you can't be here during the night."
Janine Bandcroft, Street Newz reporter:

"Does it impact on the public if they're sleeping here at night?"

Kris:

"There's two different issues - you are not allowed to sleep here period.  That's a bylaw we've enforced for decades."

Janine:

"These are young folk who need a place to sleep, where do you suggest that they go?"

Kris:

"That's not an issue that I can deal with.  You can't be on the property between 11 and 7."

Janine:

"It's definitely not impacting on the public use of the land if they're sleeping here in the wee hours."

Kris:

"As i said there's two issues - the impacting on the public use is during the daytime, and your presence does impact on other people coming and using the park because you intimidate others."

Andrew Ainsley, Love and Fearlessness filmmaker:

"Wait a minute ... I've watched a lot of intimidation since we've arrived here, guys, and it's not coming from us."

Kris:

"Crowds of people intimidate other people, and this is a public place.  There have been complaints, over the past two years, we have complaints frm the neighbours, from the people who work here, from bridal parties, all kinds of people.  We have been dealing with various people who've been trying to sleep here through the last couple of years and before, and we've had complaints on an ongoing basis."
Conrad, age 25:

"We've actually had neighbours bringing us tea and stuff a few times now."

Kris:

"That's really not anything I can deal with.  What I have to tell you is that you can't be here between 11 and 7."
Andrew:

"Kris, we're not discussing the issue - your own people won't even do this anymore.  If you want to stand here and keep saying the same lines we'll go to jail, I guess, but if you want to discuss this in a rational way we'll try to work something out, think of some way these people can get along where they won't bother you, won't disrupt you, won't intimidate people, it'll be great.  But if all you want to do is say the same old stuff, it's clear to everyone what's going on, it's clear to the police, and i think it's even clear to you guys, but I know it's clear to these people."

City Police - Officer #46

"Right now it's pretty straight forward - we're outside the times of the camping, they've asked you not to camp on the property.  Right now we're looking at depositing personal effects, sleeping bags and bedding.  If people want, they can gather up their own personal effects and have it stored or kept somewhere else.  If you're on the grounds today I guess you're considered visitors, again as long as you're not interfering with the lawful use and enjoyment of the property which right now I don't think you are as long as you're removing the personal effects that have been deposited on the ground.  And that's pretty straight-forward in the bylaws, it's black and white, there's other issues in and around and I'm not going to stand and debate with you guys today.
I've been pretty good, I think, I've listened to a lot of your concerns.  A representative of the PCC has asked you to pick up your personal effects, so we're going to give you the opportunity to do that, if there's somewhere you can store it or keep it on your backs or whatever you're going to do, that's fine, but if it's deposited on the ground or left behind, it will be confiscated if it's abandoned.

Where are people going to the bathroom?"

Various people say they're going off property for that.

Janine:

"So, if there's a natural disaster, like an earthquake, and we all need a place to camp, then we'd best not come here I guess."

Officer #46:

"I guess we could 'what if' this to death, couldn't we?"

Janine:

"Well, unfortunately the issue of poverty is increasingly important for all of us to deal with ..."

Officer #46:

"And that's not what I'm here to debate right now."

Janine:

"Conrad has said there are neighbours who do have empathy, and unfortunately what happens in society is that we hear from the one or two who are uncomfortable with poverty, and that's who you're hearing from.  So, if we could somehow rally the neighbours who don't have a problem with you guys being here, that might be another approach.  These are kids who need a place to sleep.  A written petition carries a lot of weight."

Conrad:

"About the PCC, who you represent, don't they manage most of the property that's owned by the city or province within this city?"

Kris:

"The PCC manages the property that the PCC owns, so not all the property within the city.  Because it's a national designated heritage site, there's a whole other group of community members who want to protect this for perpetuity and it will not become a place that will be approved for sleeping."

Janine:
"It's a Christian-based site - in the spirit of Christianity and good will and looking after our neighbours ... these are kids!"

Someone, unidentifiable:

"This was a place of refuge and sanctuary when the sisters were here."

Kris:

"The sisters aren't here any longer."

Someone:

"But if you're referring to this place as a historic site, we need to bear that in mind - this place was a sanctuary, a hospital, a place of refuge."

Janine:

"What would Jesus do?"

Kris:

"Life has moved from that point."



The discussion with Kris and the police was pretty much finished with this, and I spoke with some of the campers who lingered about.   Some of these include Christina (age 19), Mark (30), Nick (18), Aidan (15), Sarah (20) and Gwen the teddy bear (age unknown).

Simon (age 32), has been in the shelter system for about 8 months, 5 of those at the Salvation Army.  I asked him why he chose the streets.  "I was basically fed up with the Salvation Army having only 20 emergency beds.  It costs about 20 bucks a day to stay at the Salvation Army, so for a simple mattress they're charging about $500 a month.  I think the people of Victoria have been very generous - they donate a lot of food to the Salvation Army, and that's basically sold back to the people because that $500 includes food.

I've seen a lot of guys struggle.  Coming into town, trying to find a job, they do find work - there's a lot of work here right now - but the Salvation Army doesn't serve breakfast until 8 o'clock in the morning so these guys go to work without proper food."

I asked Simon, who lived in relative comfort until recently, if he'd like to share his own story.  "There's no security [at the Sally Ann]," he said, "there's 40 people in a dorm, this particular person was snoring and was pulled off a top bunk, a very serious incident happened, I didn't sleep until 4 or 5 in the morning, and I went to work in the morning [a Campbell construction site].  I walked off the job and that's where my financial difficulties happened.  I wasn't eligible for EI or anything, and at that point it was a long process just collecting myself, keeping myself healthy, and then I realized there's an epidemic in Victoria right now - there are children on the streets, and also a large drug problem.  It's not safe to sleep in the bushes on a day to day basis, you wake up and you're sleeping on syringes.  My concern is finding somewhere that's dry, and where I'm not worried about my stuff.

I'd rather be out here.  We have food, we have so many people donate food to us - three of the local neighbours have brought bags of sandwiches to us, one of them is with the security guard that's on one of the shifts here, him and his wife came down with coffee and sandwiches, and Father Antonio has been very very supportive.  There were about 30 people here Friday night, 25 Saturday night, 20 last night.  These people have what they have on their backs, and that's it."

Billy Bob, age 46 and a former 'carnie,' told me he's been beaten up twice by the police in the past year.  "Monetary standards in society ... it's the last prejudice that people can actively cultivate.  I've talked to a few people who have recently become homeless, and they're quite surprised that the quality of life really hasn't changed, just the lack of goods - you've just got to think about things in a different way.

I've been on the streets since April 1st of this year.  I had gone to Streetlink, my wife was in the hospital and I decided to lose the apartment, to downsize, I hadn't been on the street until 1974 in Ottawa.  As far as finding a place to stay, it was a completely different era - the churches weren't locked up back then, you could get into apartment buildings and stay in the party rooms, everything that had a roof over it wasn't caged in, and there didn't seem to be as many homeless ... in the winter people would bring you into their houses."

Sarah, age 20, told me she's been on the streets for 2 months.  "I kind of made the decision by choice.  I thought what was going on was wrong [criminalizing the poor], and I wanted to be supportive."

Andrew agrees that the pendulum appears to be swinging in the 'Right to Sleep' favour.  "Security have told us they'll walk out on their jobs if they're told to do any more of this.  One said that if he's told to take our belongings he'll quit.  Their wives are bringing food by.  I was talking with the Sisters of St. Ann yesterday and we're going to see them today."

If the 'big one' hits, I'll be glad I've made some friends from the streets.  They've taught me where to find the good dumpsters (amazing amounts of edible food is simply thrown away), how the code of conduct works (so I can avoid intentionally pissing anyone off), and they've instilled in me a sense of community and hope that I can survive whatever catastrophe may befall me - at least for a while - in relative comfort.

If you'd like to support the Right to Sleep movement, check out loveandfearlessness.com for information about the new documentary.  You might also give Kris Anderson a call or send a letter, at the Provincial Capital Commission - (250) 953-8829; 613 Pandora Avenue, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 1N8; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it - asking her to chill.  The kids aren't hurting anyone - they just want to be safe and warm for the winter.

Janine Bandcroft is Co-ordinator for the Victoria Street Newz, sold by low-income folks on the streets of our fair city.  Archived issues can be found at streetnewz.communitypipe.org.
 
Last Updated on Monday, 26 September 2005 09:08
 

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