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A Toast to Tent Cities
And the strategies of unstable minds
I’ve been watching with interest the recent dismantling of a large tent encampment in Vancouver City. I follow such events not because I take any joy in human suffering but because they are a vivid illustration of what happens when the fancies of progressive social theory run teeth-first into the immovable object of reality.
See, what “poverty experts” (who always happen to live far away from tent cities) want us to believe is that these encampments “allow vulnerable people to be together for emotional support and safety.” They “provide community and . . . play an extremely important role in harm reduction.” They remind us that, “some people experiencing homelessness actually choose to live in tent cities and encampments instead of in organized shelters . . . which sometimes puts the homeless population at odds with the surrounding community and with government leaders.” But that all of this is okay because “tent cities have become a strategy for homeless people to create a solution to real or perceived inadequacies in the world around them.”
Because if there’s one thing progressives love more than government money, it’s playing mind games with the naive.
That impassable labyrinth of plastic lean-tos that stretch on for eighteen miles? That’s an extended emotional support network. That picnic area your family used to enjoy that now resembles a Mad Max reunion set? That’s a strategic community response to a real or perceived inadequacy. That man defecating behind the cedar shrub next to your storefront window? That’s called an independently directed evacuation procedure.
While we’re on the subject — what exactly is a perceived inadequacy? Are we supposed to treat them with the same urgency as a real inadequacy? How exactly does one respond to a perceived inadequacy? Presumably with a perceived solution? And at what point aren't we all just acting members of the association of gibbering lunatics?
But this is the kind of unhinged logic we have come to expect from progressives. Commentary that is so stupefyingly detached from reality you have to phase into another dimension to understand it. And it isn’t just harmless rhubarb-whacking either. If the goal of “poverty advocates” has become to explain away the actual problems, how can we expect to arrive at actual solutions? If tent cities are actually just a legitimate and proactive response to homelessness and addiction then why are we removing them in the first place?
The answer is — because none of it is true.
When asked a reason for the Vancouver encampment removal, authorities cited “increased concerns about fire and other safety concerns, including a rise in the sexual assault of women in the encampment.” And that, “every day, we’re hearing new and sometimes horrific stories (of) theft, vandalism, and senseless acts of violence.” One of the shop owners near the Vancouver encampment mentions that “left-over needles, other drug paraphernalia and human waste are regularly left in the alley behind the store.”
Closer to home, outreach workers in a Waterloo tent encampment, attempting to steer youth away from a thriving sex trafficking and drug scene, are often “faced with threats of violence from adults, not the youth, who want to keep the young people there.” One worker remarks, “The reality is that the encampments have no rules. They can do whatever they want. They have adults influencing them in very negative ways.”
Though I believe there are practical strategies for tent cities, it is not my intention here to go into them. My only intention here is to stress the chaos and contradiction that ensues when we try to squeeze reality into our pelagianism instead of allowing our pelagianism to be shattered by reality.
Addressing the phenomenon of tent cities from the vantage point of biblical reality — which assumes the fallenness of man — will cure us of any sparkly notions we had about the altruism of lawlessness. It will force us to be realistic about the benefits, if any, of government intervention and the validity of anarcho-primitivist “solutions.” It will put us ten steps ahead of activists who have to spend most of their waking hours trying to convince everyone that tent cities are all just part of a big and wonderful plan.
As the microcosm of Vancouver demonstrates, tent cities are not a preview of utopia. They are a symptom of a society in free fall.