City needs to rid itself of the 'hatred' it has for the homeless, says tent city volunteer

Maple Ridge, B.C. has been struggling to find ways to live alongside a large tent city, called Anita Place, that popped up in May. Volunteer Teal Quin called into Checkup to talk about the city's recent proposal and why the homeless population needs the tent city.
Anita Place tent city sprang up in May after Maple Ridge, B.C.'s only low-barrier shelter closed. (Yvette Brend)

Maple Ridge, B.C. has been struggling to find ways to live alongside a large tent city, called Anita Place, that popped up in May after the only low-barrier homeless shelter closed down due to lack of funding.

Since then the city has sought an injunction to have the camp removed. But on Sunday Maple Ridge said it had reached an agreement with Pivot Legal Society, the lawyers representing up to 80 people living in Anita Place, that would allow the occupants to stay. However, the proposed contract asks for regular safety inspections of the camp.

Teal Quin, an Anita Place volunteer, called Checkup on Sunday during the show on housing the homeless to explain why she felt the city's proposal comes with too many strings attached.

She told host Duncan McCue that the tent city offers a safe and welcoming way of life to people who, for various reasons, don't fit into a "housed" community.

Duncan McCue: I understand that you volunteered at a homeless tent city.

Teal Quin: Yeah, I've been the onsite advocate at Anita Place tent city in Maple Ridge, British Columbia which formed on May 2. We've just gone through our six months and we've started into our winter.

The City of Maple Ridge originally did apply for an injunction against the camp but later withdrew it. Recently they reapplied for an injunction to clear the camp. As of yesterday, I was handed a document from Pivot Legal [Society], which is representing the camp with respect to the injunction, where the city is now abandoning their request to clear the camp, but instead have produced an order which reads more like, "we're going to sit inside of your tent and monitor everything you're doing because we're the police, or we're the government, and we're going to tell you how to live within a safety net that we've deemed is possible."

That's one viewpoint. The other viewpoint that you see in Maple Ridge is, "well, we're glad that they're going to come in and do that because we just want to get rid of you."

DM: In terms of tent cities — we've seen them popping up all over the place — do you think there's going to be a need for sites like that long into the future? Are they becoming a permanent part of the landscape from your perspective? Is that something we should just accept?

TQ: Let's go back to the '30s and '40s and have the hobo camps — that was probably the original founding of transient life, homelessness, going from job to job. That involved drinking a lot of alcohol and riding the rails. We seem to embrace that as an idea, and we've fantasized about it in pictures and novels.

The tent city in Maple Ridge, B.C. is located in a green space that was supposed to be turned into a park. (Liz Hoath)

But the real life form of that nowadays is definitely a tent city. It's a tent city where those who have not found good results within the system are now accepted and belong to a community that looks out for one another. Just as when I was growing up in my upper middle class environment we had neighbours we could turn to. It's very much that way in a tent city, but to outsiders it's just a bunch of druggies sitting in tents, injecting and eating free food.

It's really hard to grasp living in a tent for six months with having to go somewhere to shower, somewhere to try and find food. Food wasn't originally available in the camp by any community group. I started a meal program two times a week — I cooked in my own home 45 meals.

DM: We're talking about this national housing strategy and whether or not it's going to impact homelessness. What do you think would help the people you volunteer with?

TQ: This strategy, if it's going to be effective, needs to reduce Maple Ridge from its self loathing and hatred that it has for homelessness, and for those who are attempting to create safety for a segment of society that generally is unsafe on the streets.

I don't want to see homeless people using drugs in tents by themselves outside of where they can get help. I've been on scene when someone from a housed location came running to the camp requesting a Narcan kit, and I went up and I saved that woman's life.

And we've had no deaths at Anita Place tent city — quite the contrary. Since May of 2017 we've had several deaths of housed individuals using drugs. So I think that speaks to safety in numbers, and it speaks to having a community component. When you are homeless you've got other people watching your back. I feel far more safe in tent city than I do on the streets.

All comments have been edited and condensed for clarity. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link above. This online segment was prepared by Ieva Lucs on Nov. 27, 2017. With files from Chad Pawson.