Under The Volcano
On July 5, 2016, the much anticipated Super InTent City (SIC) injunction ruling came down. And down it came. Citing health and safety issues, fire risks, violence and criminal activity Chief Justice Hinkson ruled in this most recent injunction (SIC won the first!) that the “balance of convenience” could no longer lie in favor of the residents of tent city. In doing so, the Chief Justice ordered that people be displaced from SIC, “as housing becomes available, and by not later than August 8, 2016.”
This ruling did not surprise many as the displacement of tent city has already begun. Twenty people were signed up to move to a shelter last week as a condition of a fire order and on the promise of first priority for new housing. And an increased police presence over the last month has forced others to stay out of the tent city. Still, Super InTent City has had incredible wins.
The people residing on the courthouse lawn since October of last year spoke truth to power, and demanded an end to policies that seek to criminalize, hide, and contain homelessness instead of solve it. They demanded “homes not shelters” and the Province eventually coughed up $11.2 million to offer 140 permanent units representing a significant investment in social housing. Going forward, legally speaking, the Province will have a hard time displacing tent cities without permanent housing for people to move to.
As we count up the wins of SIC, it’s important to realize that the court’s support of housing for some come at the cost of the criminalization of others.
The Provincial government handed a contract to Portland Hotel Society for the new social housing facility. From the onset, people at SIC have resisted the institutionalization, regulation, and policing inherent in many “supportive” housing facilities. For many at tent city, the fight is not only about housing, but self-determination and choice in their homes. According to tent city resident Mz. Cass, “This is about the freedom of people’s choice and the freedom for people to live how they want to as long as they are not causing harm.” As a Metis woman, Mz. Cass sees Super InTent City’s fight as a continuation of Indigenous struggles for freedom and land: “This fight was fought before. The settlers came here and eradicated this land in many horrific ways, and told them that they need to conform to Christianity. Well that’s what we are being told here. We have to conform to government in order to have what we want. It shouldn’t be like that. We should be free.”
In his ruling for the displacement of the camp, Chief Justice Hinkson repeated the Province’s claim that a “criminal” element was creating “danger” at the camp. For evidence he used claims from police, neighbors against the presence of the camp, as well as affidavits from homeless advocates that institutional “supportive” housing has excluded people who have been criminalized and traumatized in institutional environments. His ruling divides residents of Super InTent City into “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, defined by their willingness to accept the rules of PHS at the camp, and the institutional supportive housing being offered by the Province. The ruling will empower the police to displace those who refuse this housing.
In a City that counted close to 1400 people in their last homeless count, the need for tent cities is not over. As a condition of accessing new housing, the Judge ordered that people register their name and picture to become a “Qualifying Defendant” and that the Province and its staff prevent all ‘other’ homeless people from residing at SIC going forward ignoring those who are not currently on site or those who are not present on the registration days.
Super InTent City has been a space of refuge, survival, resistance, shared learning, and movement building. And this continues until there are homes for all!