A report from inside Victoria’s first Portland Hotel Society-run “supportive” housing

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In April after the government hired Portland Hotel Society (PHS) to manage Super InTent City, SIC Society met with PHS to clarify their role at the camp. At this meeting, we told PHS about the abuse we’ve faced in institutional, “supportive” housing and shelters. We told them that we were sick of having our rights violated by cops, bylaw, and social workers, and that tent city was an outcome of bans, evictions, and criminalization. PHS told us that they were a different organization. They told us that in their buildings resident’s rights were not taken away in return for support and housing.

It’s been 2 months since we’ve moved from tent city to the new PHS-run building on Johnson Street. It is everything we hoped it wouldn’t be…and much worse. We signed a tenancy agreement with the word “GUEST” on it, and while most of us haven’t received a copy of what we signed, it doesn’t appear to match a normal BC residential tenancy agreement. We are getting the run around. We make complaints and we are directed to another staff member. Nothing ever gets resolved.

We feel unsafe in this building. Our health and stress are shot. Until a week ago, we weren’t allowed to use the stairwells. The elevator is often full, takes a long time, and we need to access stairs in case of fire, conflicts, anxiety, and claustrophobia.  We’ve had the elevators shut off on us and been held unlawfully captive on our floors. At tent city we spent months being harassed by fire officials and responding to fire code regulations. Where are the fire inspectors now?

Even though we are indoors, we continue to be criminalized. Instead of dealing with us directly, staff use the cops. Staff watch the video monitors all day and rarely look or talk to us. They share video footage with the cops. Already three people are up on assault/mischief charges from incidents in the building. A SWAT team has been in 3 nights. After our concerns about fire safety and access to stairwells were dismissed, one of us removed magnets off the doors to the stairwell. She was arrested and charged with mischief, but many are thankful that they can now move freely up and down the stairs. The rooms are tiny; the heat in the rooms is sometimes unbearable. There is a constant buzz and hum, evidence of an electrical issue.

Because everything is caught on camera, we face criminal consequences for regular spats that would normally be taken care of a few minutes later. When violence and theft happens to us in our homes, we can’t even get access to the cameras. We are told to make a police report. What about our safety?

Prior to tent city, we experienced theft of our belongings as we were forced to move from one place to another. Tent city allowed us to keep them safe. When we moved to this building we had to put our things in basement storage and since then our belongings have been pilfered. We have lost so much.

We were told by PHS that guests would be allowed. For the first 30 days, no guests were allowed. Now, they are allowed if they show ID or get their picture taken; there are time restrictions for guests. At tent city, we were able to spend time with our friends and family. If there were issues with guests, we dealt with it as a community, in a constructive and accountable way.

PHS is creating partnerships with everyone except us. PHS is holding neighborhood meetings to address issues, but why aren’t we invited to those meetings? We think neighborhood relations are important. Let us have a say in our homes and lives!

Things are dire, but we are resilient! We have created a resident’s council and are reaching out to residents of other supportive housing buildings to share experiences and organize for social change.

Super InTent City (SIC) Society is a society formed by members of Victoria’s tent city that was on the court house lawn from November 2015 until August 2016. We are a voice for the most criminalized, marginalized, and oppressed members of society.

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