There is a lot of negative sentiment around the emergence of tent cities, especially from neighbours who argue that tent cities have a negative impact on the community. They often argue that people living in tents trash the neighbourhood. But the reality is much more complex than the assumptions made by people who rarely take the time to think about why tent cities exist in the first place.
Tent cities provide an alternative for people who might not find shelters to be an adequate option for them (because it doesn’t allow couples or pets, for example). Tent cities also provide a sense of community and belonging that cannot be found in shelters.
Additionally, public health experts recognize the harm reduction potential of tent cities, especially in the midst of an overdose crisis.
However, one piece that has been missing from the conversation when we talk about tent cities is the crucial issue that they are bringing to the forefront of the debate around homelessness: the right to daytime shelter.
While homeless people have access to some options to shelter themselves at night (in shelters for example – when beds are available), there are very few places where homeless people can exist during the day without being harassed or criminalized. Some shelters have daytime drop-in programs, but those are typically only available for a few hours and the very few shelters open during the day cannot come close to accommodating all homeless people in Victoria. This means that many homeless folks often have nowhere to go from 7am to 7pm. When they attempt to seek shelter during the day (by going into retail businesses or pitching tent in a park to protect themselves from the elements), they are often harassed and criminalized by the public and law enforcement.
Shouldn’t the right to housing, a fundamental human right as defined by many organizations and echoed by our Prime Minister, extend to daytime? Tent cities continue to pop up across North America because they offer something that other housing options fail to provide: daytime shelter. And it’s only a matter of time until our government recognizes that homeless people have a right to access shelter during the day.
People’s basic human needs don’t stop existing after 7 or 9am.