Volume 95, Issue 15
Wednesday, September 26, 2001
Homeless find new digs
London's Tent City scrapped for Unity ProjectBy Erin Conway-Smith
Tents are no longer home to two dozen of London's homeless people. Instead, a newly-renovated storage area will provide accommodation and support throughout the coming winter.
Matti Paquiz, 28, one of the grassroots co-ordinators of the newly-named Unity Project, said 25-30 former residents of Tent City moved into the storage area located behind the Horton Street Salvation Army last Thursday.
Paquiz said the residents agreed to the move following negotiations with London city hall, mediated by people from a homelessness coalition. A number of other groups were involved with getting the Unity Project off the ground, including the Salvation Army and front-line activists, he said.
Paquiz emphasized the Unity Project is a work in progress, based on consensus and community-based decision making.
"We are trying to run this without any hierarchy," he said. "We lean on each other, we try to come together as much as possible as a united group. The objective is to move into permanent spaces, so people can have their own private rooms or apartments."
Marshall Phinney, executive director of services for the Salvation Army located on Horton Street, said the Unity Project has involved a variety of groups working together.
Three weeks ago, the residents of Tent City were going to be evicted from a downtown park, Phinney said.
The Salvation Army was called in by the City of London to find other accommodations, rather than going through the process of removing residents.
Phinney said the Unity Project is temporary and should only last 3-5 months, though it is difficult to know exactly how long it will take for other accommodations to be found.
He said renovations have been made to the large, bi-level storage area, such as the installation of emergency lighting, fire exit doors and fire extinguishers, in order to bring the building up to code. Showers are currently being installed to make the building more livable.
Resident Shannon Lague, 23, said he prefers living in the Unity Project rather than staying next door in the Salvation Army's men's shelter because he finds the atmosphere more mature.
"It's our own small community," he said. "I find it a lot easier to communicate when there is both sexes around."
Lague lived in the Tent City for about a week before making the move to the Unity Project. He said approximately half the residents view the move from Tent City to the new location as a positive step. "The morale is pretty good.
"Until we can stand on our own two feet again, if we stick together, we can succeed in our goal to be independent again," he said.
London mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said following initial meetings, the Salvation Army took on the responsibility of finding a suitable place for the residents of Tent City to live.
Copyright © The Gazette 2001