Tent City

We were warned about summer time in our house when we moved here a few years ago. We were told that the alley can get quite loud when the clear skies come. The park across the street becomes the place to be so personalities clash and people yell and violence is threatened. This is true for the most part. But not this summer. This summer has been the quietest we’ve experienced.

A year ago, on the same night a decrepit building across the street was demolished, a woman gave birth to twins in the playground while held in handcuffs. That was a loud night. We’ve had no nights like that this summer. No one has drunkenly played the chimes across the street at midnight this summer. No one has fought in the alley at night this summer.

I attribute the quiet to the vigilance of our new neighbours. Around 200 people have set up all kinds of tents in the park across the street in the last few months—the ostensible reason being a shortage of housing in the city. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that. It always is. I overheard a neighbour (who lives in state-supported housing himself) argue that the people in Tent City just didn’t want to comply with the rules in hotels. But shortly after they moved in, several signs popped up declaring the area in the middle of the park—where all the tents were—a drug and alcohol free zone, thus there are rules. That’s a far cry from the reputation of the park in general, known for decades as the only open air drug market in North America. I’m sure the self-administered drug and alcohol policy has contributed to the general pleasantness of living across the street from Tent City.


There is also a political element beyond the demand for more housing for the homeless. Earlier this week I noticed that a sign was missing. The sign declared the name of the park. It is named after an early mayor of Vancouver. The majority of the residents of Tent City may be (I do not know for sure, but am only going by sight and reputation) First Nations. I am assuming but could not verify that the removal of the sign bearing the teutonic name of a European Canadian political leader from after incorporation had something to do with indigenous peoples taking offence that a park on unceded land not have anything to do with indigenous peoples.

Might the destruction of city property be its eventual undoing? I don’t know. I do know that the city is looking for a good reason to evict the new residents. My wife has spoken with one city employee fishing for a complaint, but my wife couldn’t think of one. No one has bothered us when we patronize the playground or walk through the park to go to the grocery store.

The city might get there wish soon, without making any political gaffes to boot. The rains seem to have started. Perhaps they are just temporary rains and do not indicate the wet season (AKA October through March), but it’s not going to be dry like the summer is. My guess is that the decrepit tents lining the park will become even less desirable than the decrepit hotels lining the streets. But who knows? I haven’t heard of a surplus in hotel rooms in the area, and that may be the real reason the city hasn’t acted. Where will the 200 people go if they are not allowed to live here?


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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