What’s the use in staying in housing if I can’t have the person I love there?
Anita Place Tent City’s alternative to the “jail” of supportive housing: An interview with Mama Bear and Joey
Mama Bear was a founder of Maple Ridge’s last tent city across the bypass from Anita Place on Cliff Avenue, which lasted for nearly 6 months in the middle of 2015. She started Cliff Avenue with two other Indigenous women, Tracy Scott and Pitbull, because they were tired of being pushed around and having their belongings stolen and destroyed by bylaw officers. Mama Bear was also involved in planning and starting Anita Place tent city. Her position in Anita Place has been different because after Cliff Avenue, she was housed in a supportive housing building called Alouette Heights Home Start.
In her reminiscences of the first year of Anita Place, Mama Bear and her partner Joey, who she lives with at Anita Place, explain that the institutional structure of supportive housing continues their experiences of the colonial project of child apprehension and foster care that breaks up Indigenous families. Anita Place tent city, they say, is a safer and more secure way to live outdoors than to be on your own and vulnerable to police and bigots. What might be a surprise is that they also prefer it to the only form of housing being offered by BC Housing under the NDP government.
The most important thing I wanted to help with AP is for people like Joey, who is scattered around. Bylaw is always taking his stuff and pushing him around. Joey is getting used to being here [at Anita Place], having a stable place, and growing as a community.
This is our own little city, protected from the outside city. They don’t like us. We are a family and we look out for each other. In the beginning we were scattered and here we’re strong.
In supportive housing you’re in a spot by yourself and it’s quiet. Here you get used to the noise and people being around. I got put into Alouette Home Start and I didn’t like the quiet and the isolation. It felt like a jail. There are cameras everywhere, I’m not even sure they don’t have a camera in my suite. You have a fob, and you can’t go to the 4th floor if you have a 3rd floor fob. They’re supposed to be getting you ready for your own place but it feels like babying.
I’ve lived outside for 21 years and it’s more comfortable for me in a tent than in a place like Alouette.
When you walk through the doors in Alouette, they mark you down as being home. If you leave they mark you down as leaving. They track how often you come and go. You can’t go out a back door or it will set off an alarm. Everything is tracked. They say you can’t have a visitor without ID and most of my friends are homeless and don’t have ID. I feel like I’m stuck upstairs in my prison cell.
In the beginning they let Joey stay with me. We got into a lot of fights back then and we weren’t really getting along. He got in trouble with one of the workers there and they barred him for life. He got up to my floor, and was banging on my door. The staff person came up to tell him to leave. She said he had to go. He yelled, well where the fuck is she?! He yelled and it scared her and she barred him for life. We’re trying to negotiate for him to come back but they keep making excuses.
Joey is homeless and camping out so I started staying out with him. I pay rent and I should be able to have whoever I want at my house. But I can’t. It’s like a jail. What’s the use in staying there if I can’t have the person I love there?
Joey: It’s the trauma of us being taken away. It’s like them giving us to social workers. My mom dropped me and my brother off at the MCFD office and then we had to go into foster care. In the foster home sometimes they left us outside, and they didn’t support us.
Mama Bear: The social workers took us away from our families and tell us we can’t do this and we can’t do that. Back in the day the foster homes would hit children who weren’t obedient.
Here in camp, my son lives right next door. Here there’s 50 more people living here. You’ve got to be able to get along with one or two. It’s our social circle. Most of the time people in the rest of the city yell “you guys should die, you guys are bums, get a job” and whatever else. Because we’re all together here it drowns out that hate.
Joey: We have enough people here that their yelling doesn’t bother us. Everyone should be friends and family, not yelling at each other. We have to communicate together and talk.
Volcano: Do you guys have a favourite memory of the last year?
Mama Bear: Joey had long puffy hair and he buzz cut it but he started at the front so he looked like a old man who was balding.
Joey: I was shaving my head outside the tent and kept leaning in, saying “what about now” and she was laughing at how it looked. There was hair everywhere! That was a funny time.