A Tour of Tent Village on the Downtown Eastside, Guided By Ivo (age 17)
The Power of Women (POW) created Tent Village on February 15th, 2010 at 58 West Hastings, to demonstrate our city’s urgent need for more safe, affordable housing. Many people who are living in Tent Village prefer it over a shelter. My friend Ivo is shooting a documentary about Tent Village, so I asked him to give me a tour of this community and discuss his perspective.
Ivo is a seventeen-year old aboriginal poet/ designer/ activist, who many describe as an old soul. The richness of his kindness and comedy are contagious. He has experienced homelessness in his past, and he wants to support the numerous homeless youth, who live in Tent Village and on our city’s streets. According to Ivo, there are at least ten youth residing in Tent Village.
Ivo and I met up on February 20th, which was a warm Saturday afternoon. As we entered Tent Village, Ivo introduced me to his elders, whose faces lit up when they saw him. The air smelled like burning sage and tobacco. Everyone I met nodded with sincerity. The elders sat chatting with the BCCLA Legal Observers. Some volunteers gathered to build a planter box for a small garden.
“This garden is being built to beautify the space,” said Ivo.
There was a clean and bright food tent serving three meals a day. The medical tent was full of volunteers who were discussing the day’s events. We walked towards the centre of roughly a hundred tents to the village’s meeting area. A large tarp was hung up over chairs and benches.
“Our meetings are facilitated by the elders. There is order and peace. Everyone has an opportunity to be heard.” explained Ivo.
“I initially became involved with this movement when I heard about Pivot’s Red Tent Campaign. I became self-informed in relation to the federal by-laws, which state that you can sleep in a tent if you are homeless. However, city by-laws prevent homeless people from using tents. I am excited to be supporting this demonstration. I grew up on the Downtown Eastside. But, in recent years I have lived farther east and I have felt disconnected from this community. Since I have been involved with the Tent Village, it has been so awesome. I am able to spend time with the aboriginal elders who are involved. I am aboriginal. However, my mom was thrown into foster-care, so she lost her language and her culture. Through my involvement with Tent Village, I feel a sense of re-connection to my community and my culture.” said Ivo.
In the alley behind Tent Village, there was a three-story banner that has since been removed. It read, “Homes Now.” Several condos look out over Tent Village. One condo resident put up a sign in their window that read, “Build resumes, not tents.” In response to that sign, a tent village resident put up a sign that read, “My resume includes PTSD.” (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
“My elders have told me stories about single occupancy rooms that are infested with rats and mice. The mattresses are old and dirty. It is unfair that my elders have lived in these places. It is also unfair how people assume that most homeless people are just lazy drug addicts. Often, people become homeless due to unforeseen circumstances. Once you’re out on the street, it is easy to turn to drugs or alcohol because you feel hopeless... substances can keep you warm and numb at night. We need more housing now. There are many homeless youth, who are often missed when statistics are being collected.” said Ivo.
The entire population of Tent Village grew from 20 to nearly 100 in the first six days. The safety and rights of tent village residents are being protected and supported by the Legal Observers. The objectives of this demonstration are to stop the criminalization of homelessness, to stop gentrification, to create more affordable housing, and to create a national housing strategy. We are the only G-8 country in the world without a national housing strategy.
The Vancouver Media Co-op and Grounded TV have provided respectful coverage of Tent Village.
Click here to listen to an interview with Harsha Wallia about Tent Village by the Vancouver Media Co-op.
Click here to watch Grounded TV’s video coverage of Tent Village