Voices from the Oppenheimer Tent City: By Herb Varley
It’s about 12:00 in the afternoon, on a sweltering day about 4 weeks into the encampment at Oppenheimer Park. The camp seems to grow and become more and more intricate as days turn into weeks. People are sitting around talking, just like I used to with my brothers and sisters in the living room of our old apartment. Others are picking up garbage and dishes.
The camp is roughly formed like concentric circles and as I approach the innermost part of the camp I see a person I have come to think of as an Auntie. I walk over and give her a hug and say hello. She’s busy talking to a friend at the moment, so I sit down and let the ambiance of this new little village sink in. I can’t help but think that this has become a homey place for the people that don’t have one. I know for certain that if this place had been around when I was homeless, I would have been here.
As I talk with the campers, this is what I heard.
I’m standing in solidarity with the homeless at Oppenheimer Park. Our brother Brody witnessed that they were getting eviction notices. It’s important for me to be here to see that the homeless get homes and I will not leave Oppenheimer Park until everyone has a home. That’s my commitment. It’s so sad that rich people are coming and throwing us out of the only community we’ve ever had. No condominiums! Affordable homes for our people, all of our people!
I’ve been here almost since almost the beginning. I came here to be part of this cause I know what its like to be homeless. Governments aren’t making landlords accountable [for crummy conditions]. Over 100,000 people need housing. The 1% treats the rest of the world like slaves.
I’ve been officially homeless for almost 4 years, renovicted out of SROs and abused in shelters. Racism and discrimination made me decide that these places aren’t an option. This is my community. I raised my children here. They went to Strathcona School. I’m seeing people healing here outside the colonized structures. Healing from the sacred fire, from being allowed to express their pain. My job here is to see things move the way they should, in a good way. I want to help unite people, make sure there’s enough food and water and that everyone’s included. Watching people pray in their own way fills my heart. Watching people have regular food and sleep and not have to fight and have trust fills me up.
I was just walking by and checked this place out. I saw some people I know and they asked me to join them at the fire. I did and they said “Ok, you’re going to do security.” So I said “OK.” I have a home but I care a lot about the people.