For many years, my partner and I worked to establish an intentional community. Our dream was that we would, working with others, build a rural setting in which like-minded people could come together to live, share resources, grow food, support one another and do political work together. This was not a vision of a cult-like commune but, rather, of a working community with a shared set of values and political beliefs.
We, and those who came and went from the endeavour, learned a lot; much of it painful, much of it about ourselves as well as others. Ultimately, we failed.
That failure has stayed with both of us in the almost 10 years since we admitted defeat, but never has it been so close to the front of our minds as during the pandemic.
If only, we think to ourselves, we could have made that dream work. If only, we still had that land. If only, we had other people in our bubble. If only. . . .
Out of necessity
The pandemic has allowed me to see other ways that people have found to create a sense of place and belonging with others.
In Kingston, for instance, a tent city has developed along the edge of Belle Park. Most of the people living there are unhoused and do not want to live in shelters for many reasons: discomfort being in a shelter during the pandemic, substance use that prohibits them from staying in shelters, difficulties with the many rules of shelter living (including a prohibition on pets) and the safety concerns that plague almost all homeless shelters all of the time.
It’s a good location: close to the heart of the city without being right in it; on a bus line; grass, trees and water nearby. The city planned to shut the encampment down on June 5, but on the eve of that eviction, city council voted to postpone it until July 7th. In the meantime, residents have access to portable toilets, hand washing stations, drinking water, garbage pick-up and electricity, which is mostly used to charge phones and flashlights. The health unit has brought a mobile health and services clinic to the 30+ residents, which included testing for COVID-19 and STIs. Dental hygiene tips were offered as well as other immunizations.
Community, pop-up style
The tent city may not have been a long-term plan by those who are living there, but it is very much a community. I chatted with a couple of residents in the encampment’s early days. They reported that people were looking out for one another and making sure everyone was safe in their tent as night came on. The two people I spoke with said they felt safer in the tent city than they had living on the street on their own.
I drove by a few days ago, and as I watched people sitting outside their tents, talking, sharing food and laughing, it certainly seemed like a community.
It also seemed like a good option for those without other housing. With the new eviction date just around the corner, residents and supporters are working hard to convince Kingston’s city council that the tent city — a pandemic-inspired community — should be left right where it is.
This week’s cocktail
During our years of trying to build a community, there were wonderful times that (almost) made up for the difficulties. Usually, they involved food and drink, often after a day of hard work of one sort or another.
It seemed that over a meal and some wine, we could find the best in ourselves and others and, for at least a few hours, remember the big picture of what we had come together to do.
In summer, one of our favourite crowd drinks was sangria, which we adapted to incorporate whatever regional fruits were in season. Here’s more or less how we made it for a crowd of 12 or so people who have the whole evening ahead of them and who are not driving anywhere:
In the morning, mix together 4 – 5 bottles of decent red wine, 1 cup ginger lemonade, 2 sliced lemons, 3 sliced limes, 2 sliced oranges and 2 – 3 cups chopped seasonal fruit (right now I would use strawberries) in a large bowl or saucepan. Cover and place in a cool spot for the day. Just before serving, stir in 3 cups club soda and add ice cubes to chill.
Place in the centre of the table with a ladle, more ice and lots of glasses, and let the community building begin.