In a quiet corner on an end of Regina Park live five of the Camp Namegans tent city residents. These five are a little older, on average, than the rest of the camp population. Like many of the residents, they’re new to being homeless.
Blair, 55, and Lynne, 38, are two of them. The couple was ‘reno-victed’ from their Victoria home in 2016. Both had lived in Victoria for at least 20 years. Yet despite their fixed incomes from disability (a little over $700 per month), the two were unable to acquire a new place (once they have a fixed address they’ll receive an additional $375 each, or $750 combined, towards rent). So the two checked into the shelter at Rock Bay Landing.
“This is my first time homeless, until now I never had a problem finding a place,” Blair said. “There seems to be an anti fixed-income attitude but it used to be the other way around. If you were on fixed income, [landlords] would say well, ‘you’re not going lose your job,’… [landlords] used to look for people on fixed income.”
At 55 and 38 the two aren’t exactly seniors but the health statistics grow steadily worse for people who live with chronic homelessness. B.C. Coroners data showed a life expectancy of just 40 to 49 years of age for people who experience chronic homelessness (according to Megaphone Magazine’s 2016 report, Dying in the Streets). And while the couple believe this is only temporary, Lynne has met a lot of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who are on disability and can’t afford a place, ending up in shelters.
In short, life is much better now than it was at Rock Bay Landing. The two were grateful to have a shelter roof over their head, but are happier in their current situation, which they believe is temporary.
“In my first week at Rock Bay I had my ID and bank card stolen,” she said.
Blair had his valuables disappear too.
“It is hard there,” Lynne said. “It sucks you down mentally, physically and emotionally, it just drains you. I had enough, I had to leave.”
On top of that, Blair and Lynne weren’t allowed to share a residence in the shelter. Lynne had moved into a transitional apartment on the fifth floor for $475 per month but Blair dared not visit. People at Rock Bay didn’t believe him, but he swears it’s the truth.
“I didn’t,” Blair said. “I would never do that to Lynne, she would have been at risk of getting kicked out. I think I made it up as far as the top floor of the elevator to kiss her goodnight but then went back down.”
Blair ended up spending the rest of last year on a mat at Cool Aid’s winter shelter. Earlier this year Blair found himself tenting with a pal, Mike, who is now his next door neighbour at Camp Namegans. Each morning they’d pack up their tent at a park near Point Ellis Bridge and set it up again. They found their way to Regina Park two months ago and it’s been a respite from the stress of packing up every morning.
“Mike works, and if you’re working, it’s an impossibility,” Blair said.
At Camp Namegans Blair and Lynne reunited with Gordon, a 62-year-old carpenter they met through the shelter system. Gordon still works, and this is also his first summer being homeless.
“Everybody needs this place,” Gordon said. “You can’t exclude people. Yes there are issues. Yes there are problems down [here]. But they still need space. They still need a place to live… a place to be as crazy as they want to be.”
When Gordon first arrived, he wasn’t ready for Chrissy Brett’s instructions. She expected Gordon to ‘sign in’ and then camp near her at the entrance until she got to know him, he said.
“Like I said, I’m a crusty bastard, so we didn’t get along on that first day, but everything I’ve seen her do, she does it right,” Gordon said.
Eventually, if she can, Brett will pair people up in sections with others who are similar, Blair said.
“It’s safe here. I haven’t had anything go missing [maybe a coffee pot],” Blair added. “For the most part, for an anarchistic self-governing place, it’s pretty mellow here.”