Photo by Chung Chow
Youth from around Richmond slept out at city hall Friday night to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the proposed modular housing at 7300 Elmbridge Way.
“I did this because I wanted to firstly show support for this proposal and to also simulate what it’s like to be homeless,” says organizer Jaeden Dela Torre, 17, a Grade 12 student at Steveston-London Secondary.
A further demonstration of the need for supportive housing were the homeless men who came to the rally and sleep-out. Tommy who didn’t give his last name, actually slept there after accepting some food and pop but mostly keeping to himself.
Also there to support the young adults, Richmond school board trustee Sandra Nixon pointed out that Tommy and other homeless people do not present a danger to the students sleeping out or to anyone; they present an opportunity for our community to show its compassion.
“This taught us to look past stereotypes of fear. The homeless are people too. We should help them instead of opposing (the supportive housing),” says Dela Torre.
Together Dela Torre and Roy He, 17, a Grade 12 student at Matthew McNair Secondary, organized the youth sleep-out in about a week of concerted effort.
Said He: “We contacted all our friends and acquaintances to get the word out.”
Everyone pitched in.
Rev. Victor Kim of Richmond Presbyterian Church is a member of both the Richmond Poverty Response Committee and RUSH, Richmond United for Supportive Housing.
“We started talking about getting youth involved,” says Kim. “Roy He was on the RUSH group and so he was part of that.”
What was it like to sleep beside No. 3 Road?
“It was really eye-opening for me. It’s freezing cold. It’s loud. I almost feel isolated in a way and also a sense of dark, a little bit of fear,” says Dela Torre.
Not all who live on the street are unemployed. Another homeless man who arrived couldn’t show up in time for the food because he was at work. What was left; salad and garlic toast, he couldn’t chew because he had few teeth. He couldn’t afford dental care. He said he had had a tent and sleeping bag to avoid the rain but when arrested for sleeping in a park one night, his shelter and warm bedding were confiscated.
Street homeless are known to number at least 70 to 80 in Richmond. That is people who literally sleep outside, without a warm home, a safe place to leave their possessions, or a place to shower. That does not include the youths who couch surf, staying at different people’s homes for a few days or weeks at a time because they too have no home. It does not include the middle-aged and older secretaries who house-sit perpetually, shifting houses with all their possessions in a suitcase, every few weeks or months because they cannot afford a home of their own on what they earn.
In addition to the teacher chaperones, Niti Sharma, a mom from Westwind Elementary helped at the sleep-out even though her son couldn’t make it. She recalls an encounter that made the need for shelter all too clear to her. On a walk one Thanksgiving, Sharma met a homeless young woman. It turned out there was no homeless shelter for young women in Richmond. Sharma gave her food and tried to help, to no avail.
Rev. Kim points out that in the neighbourhood proposed for the new modular housing, “(the homeless) are already there. They are not in one building but are already there in that area.”
Local lawyer and former political candidate Aman Singh bought three large pizzas from Tino’s for the people on the city hall lawn and steps.
When the food arrived, Bob Brammer, one of Tino’s owners, had quietly added a large hearty salad, a full-sized lasagna, and garlic bread along with cutlery, plates and serviettes.
“Young adults and kids are politically aware, socially concerned and committed to making a difference,” said Rev. Kim. “One of the things I’m finding, when it comes to social engagement and awareness, it is the younger generations raised here, as opposed to first generation immigrants that do take a different approach and a different sense of consciousness than their parents generation.”
He pointed to some of the students at the sleep-out who supported housing the homeless, in opposition to their immigrant parents. He sees hope.
“I would hope that those who have experienced Richmond as a place of welcome and opportunities, that we would extend that welcome to others who have been marginalized for other reasons,” Kim says.
Kim’s online petition supporting the modular
housing has 1,500 signatures. The paper-based petition also has 1,500. The
youth have a petition of their own with almost 1,100 people who have signed to
show their support for housing our community’s homeless. While there have been
those opposed, they number in the hundreds, compared to the 4,100 who are
willing to stand up and be counted among the ranks of the compassionate.
“I believe that everyone needs a home. Everybody needs a place to stay. Nobody wants to stay on the streets. It’s a horrible thing to go through. Homes are a right, we all deserve a place to stay, a place to call home,” says Dela Torre.
“I guess overall this event is to get the message out there that love and compassion are better that hate and fear,” Dela Tore says. “This was kids showing compassion to people. I frankly believe we should all do that regardless of who you are or where you are from.”