Woman sleeps in tipi outside Coquitlam City Hall with two kids
Posted October 7, 2022 10:04 pm.
Last Updated October 8, 2022 10:44 am.
On the pavement outside of Coquitlam’s City Hall, Romana Shirt is sleeping in a tipi with her two children, saying she has no where else to go.
“I’ve tried everything. I was in contact with a bunch of different organizations. I’ve been on the BC Housing waiting list, they know that me and my kids have been pretty much on the street for the last four months,” she said.
Shirt and her eight and nine year old sons have been staying in the tipi for about a month now, and Shirt has been posting regular updates on the TikTok social media platform.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking because I don’t really have anywhere else to go. I don’t have a home to go to, I can’t gain employment, and this is all my kids have. This is all we have,” Shirt tells CityNews.
Coquitlam’s Mayor Richard Stewart says he has spoken to Shirt and has no plans of forcing her to leave. He adds that although housing is a provincial matter, the city has been trying to help.
“This troubles me deeply that someone has felt the need to take a stand like this. Because she feels, perhaps, [that she] has no other avenue to get the attention of the agencies that can help,” Stewart said.
“I’m hopeful this can be resolved quickly for the sake of the children.”
Shirt says her camp is also a protest, and she’s not the first one in her family to have the idea.
Her late grandmother Lillian Shirt held a similar protest, setting up a tipi outside Edmonton City Hall in 1969.
“No landlords would rent to her because of racism and discrimination, and she put a tipi outside city hall to bring the message of hope,” she explained.
Shirt says her grandmother’s statement led to a phone call with former member of The Beatles, John Lennon, and may have inspired his hit song, “Imagine.”
Over 50 years later, she says Indigenous people, and people with disabilities, still face racism and discrimination — something she has seen firsthand with her eldest son.
When Shirt saw that her son wasn’t getting the support she felt he needed in school, she made the decision to start homeschooling both of her kids. She says this decision led to her losing her job and their apartment.
“I took my son out of school full-time because he was hitting himself, punching himself, and crying everyday. So I had to make the decision of keeping my son in this place, where he would cry and punch himself and was completely dysregulated every single day, or be homeless — and I chose to be homeless. And that was probably the best decision I ever made for my son, because he hasn’t hit himself since he’s been out of school.”
A statement from BC Housing says it’s “very sorry to hear about the situation Ramona’s family is in. Our applicant services branch was in contact with Ramona this past summer and will be reaching out to her again to discuss housing options and resources.”
The statement also notes that, unfortunately, housing demand far exceeds availability across the province.
“The housing crisis has exacerbated all of the challenges that, particularly [for] people in poverty, people who have other challenges related to their housing situation. Those are really difficult realities, every city sees them,” Stewart explained.
In the meantime, Shirt has created a GoFundMe page asking for people to “help shelter my beautiful children.”