Standing in her rainbow-tie-dyed sweatsuit, purple headband, and pink rain boots, Victoria Boyd was the most colorful person at Tent City as the sun set on Friday, Feb. 19. She was also one of the last.
An hour after a county-imposed deadline had passed ordering everyone out of the encampments that had popped up along 12th Street during the pandemic, I found Boyd wheeling a laundry cart full of firewood up an I-277 entrance ramp to a tent where she had stayed for the past six months.
Most folks had been moving their possessions out of Tent City since the order was handed down on Feb. 16, but Boyd was throwing more wood over the fence into the area where she planned to build a new fire and stay another night.
That is, if nobody forced her out first.
Boyd said she could have taken up the county’s offer to transition to a hotel where more than 200 others had already moved to by that point, but she refused for many reasons: fear of COVID-19, concerns she’d be forced to room with someone struggling with addiction, and perhaps most of all, a principled refusal to comply with the shelter’s 9 p.m. curfew.
“I don’t drink, I don’t drug, and they’re not fixin’ to put me in a room with somebody I don’t click with — no, no, no,” Boyd said, speaking from the other side of the fence where she had gone to retrieve her firewood. “I graduated from college. I had a good-paying job. I got peace. I promise you that. I ain’t struggling. I got peace of mind.”
Boyd has peace of mind and plenty of positivity to go around, and she has plans.
During our discussion, Boyd brought up her desire to be an author and motivational speaker. She said she had been keeping a journal throughout her six-month stay at Tent City and would love to turn it into a book that challenged the perceptions of those who have never experienced her life.
“I got a book, From The Inside Out: What Is Life Like Living in a Tent?” she said. “You think you could do it? All your essentials in one place? Your bathroom, your cosmetics, your bedroom, your shower, all that in one place. Could you do it? Tents are for camping, but we gotta make it a habitation so we can sleep. I got mace, a knife and prayer, covered by angels.”
I don’t doubt for a minute that Boyd could become a motivational speaker. As she stood there making her case on that Friday night, she began to draw a crowd. Journalists, photographers and advocates began to form a half-circle around her.
It got to a point where I felt uncomfortable; Victoria’s juxtaposition behind a fence as multiple people took photos of her made the entire thing feel too much like a zoo.
It was a metaphor for how our neighbors living in Tent City have been viewed over the last year, their presence at a busy corridor in and out of Uptown serving as a reminder to those who usually don’t have to consider the question Victoria wants to pose with her book.
More importantly, their presence has forced local leaders to consider solutions to an issue that for many years was kept out of sight, out of mind — pushed back into wooded areas where passersby can’t see, making them easier to ignore.
As Adrienne Threatt pointed out in her recent Queen City Nerve op-ed, this problem didn’t start with Tent City, and it doesn’t end there either. For that reason, it’s a great thing to give Victoria an audience, though I’d much rather have seen her on a stage behind a podium than standing in a mud puddle behind a fence.
“Everybody’s got a solution to the problem, but ain’t nobody trying to solve the problem,” Victoria said. “They’re going to put these people in a motel and put them on curfew, that’s incarceration.”
On Monday, Justin LaFrancois reported on a solution that can actually help solve the problem: a housing-first model put together by Home Again Foundation and Axhoj Enterprises that aims to put people in respectable homes with affordable rents and do it quickly.
The goal is to help residents like Victoria reach a place of self-sufficiency without barriers or restrictions. With a stable home, Victoria could focus on her goals, like opening a new restaurant in Charlotte serving homemade Southern cooking.
“I got dreams. I’m 54, it ain’t too late,” she said, pointing out that Colonel Sanders was in his sixties before he franchised the first KFC. “I’m going to have my restaurant one day. I already got my name. I wrote my vision January 1, 2000. The words on that page are fading, but it’s coming to pass. They’re gonna say, ‘That lady was in Tent City.’ I just got to stay focused.”
Now with Tent City out of our line of sight, it’s important that the rest of us stay focused as well.
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