With the help of Elsiewhere.
Editor’s Note: One of the developments which has resulted from the occupation of Jubilee Park by the homeless protesters of Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors is that a number of Abbotsford citizens took the time and the trouble to visit the park during the protest and ask the protesters what it was all about.
All photos by Elsiewhere except where noted.
Some wrote about the experience and shared it publicly. Other simply learned from and have spoken about it privately with friends and neighbours.
To my knowledge, the universal experience of the people who bothered to introduce themselves and have a conversation with any of those in the park was positive and often life-changing. Contrary to the image they had been presented by the media, in accounts by the City, the police, the courts or the leaders of their churches, they discovered that these were actual human beings with the ability to think, converse, express themselves and with all of normal affectations we associate with real people.
That’s because they are real people. They are real people who suffer from diseases and illnesses which, contrary to the right wing extremist ideology many in power in Abbotsford preach, are beyond their control.
When talking with real people about their addictions it becomes apparent that all of the idiotic words, brandished like weapons against defenseless non-combatants which claim ‘these people’ have chosen to live this way are just so much uneducated fluff spoken, in some cases, with actual hatred for people they have never met.
Meeting the people of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors and getting to know them makes it so much harder to hate them or to buy into the legalese with which the City and its police force prefer to discuss them.
With the help of Abbotsford writer and artist ‘Elsiewhere‘* we’ve tried to paint a more human picture of a few of the people of the Teepee …
Please read the full account on Facebook.
The People Of The Teepee?
Have met HARVEY, and his cat “Buddy. Also, STANLEY Good men. FROM: Abbotsford Today : The City of Abbotsford will be seeking today to have a BC supreme court judge give them the power and authority to use their police in order to use force against the homeless protesters of the Abbotsford BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors (DWS) and have a number of them locked up for as many as two years in jail.
The City is also seeking to have all public park land in the City included in an order that would apply to any and all homeless people in Abbotsford who are caught anywhere but in the City’s ditches and under its overpasses. Watch the CBC report link below. And please, please: contact the city and say STOP!!LUNCH WITH THE BUNCH (Dec 17)
@ Spaghetti Factory, New Westminster, in between court sessions. See link in comment box (permission to photograph).
On the left side: Stan, who ordered spaghetti, with spicy meat sauce, without soup or salad; and while waiting for food, read The Province. Lives in Jubilee Park.
Calvin: who pulled out the chair for me when we sat down. And chided “Tiny” for eating so much, so quickly. He himself ordered spaghetti with 8 meatballs, and took the leftovers home. Lives in the camp.
Barry: who started the camp, but is not himself homeless. He’s having eye surgery tomorrow.
Jeff: a volunteer with Pivot Legal Society. Wonderful person. Shepherded the group to the restaurant.
Grace: articling, and off to Ottawa tomorrow to hear a case to do with sex trade workers. She hails from Kitchener-Waterloo, and knows Mennonites there, but isn’t herself one. Lovely, big-hearted person.
Harvey: will be featured on his own. Father of five, and grandfather of four grandaughters. Was a single dad. Quiet, till you ask him about music!
“Tiny”: not homeless, but has been. From Surrey. Came to show support. Knows Barry. Loves to eat! Had soup, salad, bread, shrimp appie, and spaghetti with 8 meatballs. Large milk and a coca cola. And ice-cream for dessert. “I was so hungry in court, I was sure everyone heard my stomach rumble.”
Faye: had ribs and pasta. Homeless. Feels safe in the camp, and “it feels like I’ve found my family.” Took leftovers home. Worked on a crossword puzzle in court after lunch.
Val: not homeless, but there to show support. Spends a lot of time in the camp, and knows everyone. Had ribs and pasta. Finished the entire plate.
Lunch reminded me of the film “Babette`s Feast.” A food-centred celebration. Lots of laughter, camaraderie, joking, teasing, story-telling. Rich! Pivot Legal Society paid for the lunch. The server was superb. When her helper brought the food, Calvin told him who’d ordered what. It was an “ordinary” yet extraordinary restaurant meal.
One, a first Nations man with hair gone wild, like that of a man who’s just ridden a horse a long distance, is holding a carved stick. A talking stick? If so, it’s not seen as such in this room. He’s dressed in a highway maintenance person’s attire. Overalls and long-sleeved jacket with neon stripes, and steel-toed boots. He’s bearded, too. As is the younger aboriginal to his right. Both are expressionless. You’ve met them both in the camp; they are quiet, respectful. Move slowly. Live in a T-P shared by five. Once, you heard drumming inside; and singing. Calvin is the one with the stick; Stan is the shorter, younger one.
… another wild-hair-ed man, though his hair, unlike Barry’s and the man with the talking stick, isn’t confined like a horse’s tail; it’s free, but matted. He, too, is dressed like a construction site worker. In oversized clothes that make swishy noises whenever he moves. His eyes are swollen today, as if he’s not slept in days. And his skin in need of a bath. You’ve met him in camp, too; his name is Harvey.
… Faye, the sleepy one; and Harvey, the sad-eyed. And two who aren’t present: Dale and Nick. She uses first AND last names. Faye has an addiction. Is homeless. Has nowhere to sleep at night; has been told to move on countless times by the police. Can’t sleep, either, as she’s afraid for her safety, that is, until she joined the group at Jubilee Park which she says is her family now. Before she was fighting alone, now she’s connected; she feels safe…”Harvey, who has the same last name as Santa, owns a cat he rescued and cares for after its previous owner abused it and broke its back. He single-parented five children, moved to BC, receives no government assistance since 2006…lived alone in Grant Park where someone tried to burn down his tent while he was inside… feels safer in Jubilee Park.
The sheriff is looking at the group. She is shaking her head. She is looking and looking at Faye, at Harvey, as the lawyer tells the stories of two others, not present.
Dale, who has a serious addiction, who’s been in and out of recovery after many bad things happened in his earlier life. Dale was living under the “Happy Tree” when the city spread manure on that site. He remembers the smell. He lost most of his belongings during that time … and Nick, who saves lives, by always having an extra tent for those who don’t have one, and who was living across from the Salvation Army when the city spread manure on that camp. Nick helped people get out, and helped some get their belongings. Nick tried to help Dallas, who spent time in the Salvation Army, then was kicked out, and came across the street to join that camp. Then Dallas walked away, down the railway tracks, and committed suicide. He was 19 years old.
THIS TIPI HAS A STORY! (Dec 23)
“WHEN A TIPI GOES UP the first time, it has to face the east, because a tipi is not just a symbol, it’s a ceremony. The doorway is very important in ceremony. It faces east because that represents the beginning of creation. The tipi reminds us of the balance we must bring to our lives. To start, we take three poles and bind them together to make a tripod. Each pole also has a very specific meaning. These three together fortify the structure. They are obedience, respect and humility. Notice the poles, the way they stand. If they stood straight up and down, they couldn’t support a tipi. But balanced properly together, they are able to reinforce each other. The tops of the poles have many teachings. Each one points in a different direction. We are like those poles. We all need the strength and support of our families and communities, but we accept that we all have different journeys and point in different directions. The poles also teach us that no matter what version of the Great Spirit we believe in, we still go to the same Creator from those many directions and belief systems; we just have different journeys to get there. And where the poles come out together at the top, it’s like they’re creating a nest. And they also resemble a bird with its wings up when it comes to land, and that’s another teaching: the spirit coming to land, holding its wings up.”
FAYE (Dec 30)
FAYE: a variant of Faith (Middle English) and Fay, and the meaning of Faye is “belief; fairy”.
She moves quickly — spritely, in fact. “Shoes. Shoes. Don’t look at the shoes. Purses, purses. I love purses. And lately I’ve had a thing for scarves and hats, but I’m here for pants. I really need pants. I’m down to two pairs…”
But she can’t help herself. Stops at the purses, “Oh, this one woul drive me crazy. It’s beautiful, but it would drive m crazy,” she says. She fingers its beads, moves onto the red one beside it. Lifts, and examines it, lets go, and keeps walking. Past sweaters and stops. “Hats. Hats,” she says. “Oh, look at this. They’re exactly the same, but the one with Oilers is $3. and the Canucks is $7.”
You look, and she’s right. They’re identical, but for the brand and price.
She fingers at least a dozen more, comments on each, and minutes later, has a pink one in her basket.
You’re at Value Village, her favorite store. She doesn’t like to come to this part of town; she told you so in the parking lot. Pointed northwest, and said, “that’s where i used to live. Two blocks from here.” Her voice broke, though she didn’t cry this time, as earlier, when she’d told you, “I just want to go home. Home isn’t a place; it’s a person. It’s…” and she named him.
You met her for the first time two weeks ago. Sat behind her in court, and across from her at lunch, then behind her again, in court.
Today (Sunday), you asked if she’d tell you her story, and she immediately agreed. You talked in your car for two hours…her voice at the start, strong, and the words tumbling out as if you’d opened a jar of preserves and tipped it, too fast into a bowl.
But the longer she talked, the quieter her tone. At the end, so quiet, so small, you strained to hear. “And that’s in a big nutshell,” she said, “and it just cracked wide open.”
“It’s a big story,” you said. “And I don’t know what to say.”
And she’d looked at you, and the two of you sat in a silence, as if under a summer starlit sky, dazzled by something you both recognized as vast. Vaster than words.
And then you’d asked if there was anything you could do for her now, and she’d said, “Well, I was going to head over to the Value Village now…”
She didn’t ask for a ride. You offered. She didn’t ask that you buy her clothes. Nor did you offer. You asked, “Do you have money?” And she said yes.
Then you asked if it was ok to take a photo of her in Value Village. And she said, “Sure.”
So you’d followed her in, and tagged along, taking photos as she made a few stops enroute to the pants.
“Are you layered, Faye?”
“Oh. Yeah. I was an officer in cadets. I know how to keep warm. You wear tight clothes underneath, then a few layers.” She pointed at her hat. “Make sure you keep your head warm.” She pointed at her feet, “and your feet” and then you’re good to go. So all you need on top is a hoodie.”
She has two hoodies, and two pairs of pants. “The rest is still in my tent at Jubilee Park.”
And with that, and after another hug, and her thanking you, again, for the ride, you left her there, in the aisle at Value Village. She’d take the bus back, she said. “Back” meaning to the tipi, where she’s been sleeping since the eviction from Jubilee Park on December 22, 2012.
Faye’s homeless. Has been since March 24, 2012, when a relationship ended “abruptly.”
She’d moved to Abbotsford to be with him in May, 2010. “It was complicated,” she said.
She told you a few things, and didn’t ask they not be repeated, but some things are best left in the care of the one who has lived and survived them. And this story about Faye, written here, is to show what no one who walks by Faye in the Value Village aisle, or sees her riding her bike in Abbotsford, or walking, with a jaunt, to the beat of music from the ipod she’s hooked up to most of the time, a smile on her face, her earrings, vertical strings of pink-jewelled stars, moving in the air like a playground swing a child is pumping sky-high, her thoughts carefree and weightless as she devotes herself fully to the task at hand: pumping her legs to ride higher, still higher. The wind lifting her hair, and stroking her face, her hands clinging to the chains she trusts won’t break under her weight as she drifts between this side to that of the bar overhead, over and over, the ground and clouds blurred into one, and time — what’s time?
“It’s one day at a time, and sometimes not even that,” she says, when you ask how she gets through. “And a day for a homeless person is long, long time.”
(to be continued)
Please read the full account on Facebook.
*Elsiewhere, In Abbotsford can be found everyday on her own Facebook page.
Find selected posts in Abbotsford Today’s Elsiewhere in Abbbotsford section here.