Camp Marjorie is a community, not a nuisance
Tent cities have unwarranted stigma
“I’m not encouraging people to walk through the threshold of tents because this is someone’s front yard,” said Camp Marjorie volunteer Alyshia Johnson. “You wouldn’t want someone to do that on your front yard.” Johnson was speaking at a distance from the main encampment, which has grown from a single tent before Thanksgiving to more than three dozen, all clustered around a central screen tent where goods donated by community members have been collected.
With the failed roll-out of the Saskatchewan Income Support program, which has led to drastically reduced income and left people choosing between paying rent and buying food, many landlords have evicted individuals who cannot pay rent. As the months grow colder, it is inhumane to have individuals sleeping in cold temperatures. Regina’s own tent city has been set up in Pepsi Park to combat the cold weather, although advocates and some members of Regina’s city council stress that the tents are far from an adequate solution to the humanitarian crisis that is homelessness.
Still, despite being inadequate, Camp Marjorie has been a place of hope for many individuals who have been outed on the streets. Residents are making the best of the circumstances by keeping their space neat and organized. Beside one tent, a pair of boots sit outside so as not to track in dirt. Right beside it, a Tim Horton’s coffee cup is used as an ashtray to collect cigarette butts. It is a tent city, and it is also a home for many individuals.
Volunteers and residents alike are trying to create a community where everyone is seen as an equal. “We are trying to pave a way for a community that has no hierarchies,” said Johnson. “People come here and ask who’s in charge, and we all look around at each other because it is such a hard question to answer. We all just work together, and we don’t need titles to do that.”
Tent cities can be seen as unorthodox and obscure, but they are a small community of individuals who are trying to live and survive. “It’s kind of modern anarchy, in a sense, and people are peaceful and good,” said volunteer Justyn Chaykowski. “I would equate Camp Marjorie to a good city in that sense that the moral code is kind of just based on the camaraderie.”
Like many small communities, they get their name from someone who is significant to their community. Camp Marjorie was named after Vivian Marjorie, who chose to go by the middle name she shared with her mother. Marjorie spent lots of time in at the Friendship Centre, she was known for being incredibly kind to everyone around. She passed away on October 6, at age 60 due to an overdose. She was a mother to children both living and dead, including one child who is currently missing.
“She did not like the color black,” said Johnson. “We know that when we do have the opportunity to remember her, we will try our best not to wear black.”
Also like a community, there is someone that is a representative for the community. This community member acts as the unofficial Mayor of Camp Marjorie. Liam, whose name has been changed to a pseudonym so he is not identified as the currently acting official representing the people of the community.
“Everybody at Camp Marjorie knows Liam,” said Chaykowski. “They know where Liam’s tent is and they respect Liam, even people from outside of the community that may come into the community.”
Chaykowski talked about a particular instance where Liam resolved a situation where someone who was not a part of the camp came to take some of the donated goods without permission. Instead of taking them all away, Liam came to an agreement with the individual who only took what they needed instead.
With many more evictions taking place, many more people are trying to reach sanctuary at Camp Marjorie. However, given the high number of individuals being affected by the failed SIS rollout, they are slowly accepting more residents while also trying to find hotel rooms or warmer venues for residents.
The Saskatchewan Income Support program, which is responsible for much, but certainly not all, of the homelessness in the city, came into effect at the end of August and has proven to have disastrous effects. SIS’s predecessor, the Saskatchewan Assistance Program, paid rent directly to landlords. SIS was designed to make citizens more “self-sufficient,” sending them the payment directly. However, because SIS has also significantly reduced the dollar amount of the entitlements individuals receive, and because utility bills and food prices have risen sharply over the past two years, many people found themselves in a situation where they had to choose between paying rent and feeding themselves.
Johnson explains her frustration with the system: “I would just encourage them to have a system that doesn’t deal with everybody on a case-by-case basis, because that is not working.”
The system also requires internet access, which many of the residents do not have.
“[Residents] are without phones and technology,” continues Johnson, “just getting people signed into the program, it is so easy to take for granted that you don’t know where a certain place is [you can just Google it].” Residents aren’t able to do that without smart phones, and even if they did have phones, “you need to take into account when you have a phone, you need electricity, and we don’t have that in a park.”
Although there is currently an unofficial agreement between the city and the encampment that the encampment will not be torn down, the threat of state violence against encampment residents is real. This past summer saw people living peacefully in tent cities in Halifax, Vancouver, and Toronto have their tents and belongings destroyed by police officers and some residents and their allies were assaulted and arrested by cops. Mayor Sandra Masters has said that there is only to be two weeks to relocate all the residents of Camp Marjorie.
Johnson said that in the event that Camp Marjorie is dismantled without ensuring everyone is housed, “People that are here are going to go back to sheds, they are going to go back to benches, they are going to go back to pavement, they are going to go back to essentially nothing.”
Chaykowski expands on the Government of Saskatchewan’s lack of action towards housing Camp Marjorie’s residents and how they are opting for more actions of performative reconciliation. Many of the residents of Camp Marjorie are Indigenous.
“These statues are supposed to be put up as a memorial of what had happened after the reconciliation has been completed,” said Chaykowski. “If you want to start having real truth and reconciliation, making up for what we’ve done, then the funds that were going to go to that statue should immediately be pulled out and put into getting these people [housed].”
Without a solution to the housing crisis, Camp Marjorie continues to grow. While conditions are far from ideal, there is a greater consciousness to the camp than meets the eye.