A five-minute walk from the Bayview LRT station, about a dozen homeless citizens are living in tents in the woods now coated by snow.

Many of the ‘tent city’ residents were left without homes after their rooming-house on Lebreton Street North burned last spring. Others from a house on Bronson Avenue experienced the same fate in the fall. Others arrived based on a friend’s referral.

Ottawa is the coldest capital in the world and and the inhabitants of tent city are bracing for winter, which had an early start this year. In just one night, the tent city was covered a record-breaking, 9.4-centimetre snowfall on Nov. 11. The city also experienced a record cold snap two days later.

Five days before the snow fell, a 60 year old woman named Penny tended a fire she had made. Penny, whose last name has been withheld for privacy reasons, said she has experienced homelessness since age 15. After spending many nights sleeping in the parking lot of nearby St. Luke’s Anglican Church, Penny arrived at the tent city on Sept. 15. [Photo © Maryam Ammar]

On Nov. 6, she told Capital Current that she was hopeful she would find a safe place to live as the winter approached. “I just want a roof over my head,” Penny said. “I don’t want nothing fancy and I don’t need nothing big.” [Photo © Samantha Pope]

While tidying up her tent area, Penny stopped in her tracks to scoop up a tiny snail off the ground. [Photo © Samantha Pope]

Holding the creature close, she said she once had an aquarium filled with 24 snails in her old apartment. [Photo © Samantha Pope]

As the only women among a dozen men, Penny said she was initially nervous to join the community. She said she had experienced traumas and hardships before, suffering repeated rapes and robberies by men who lived across the hall in her previous apartment building. The men in the tent city, however, have welcomed her and have “treated her like royalty,” she said. In the above photo, a mascara bottle lies alongside plastic bullets. [Photo © Maryam Ammar]
Penny said she has smoked since she was 10. She also describes herself as an active heroin addict. [Photo © Maryam Ammar]
Penny has collected various utensils and stored them in a bucket for future use. [Photo © Maryam Ammar]
Stacked in a cooler were bags of buns for the residents of tent city to share. [Photo © Samantha Pope]

Penny said she is expected cook the food provided by organizations or people across Ottawa. The inhabitants share responsibility for keeping the place as clean as possible, she explained.

Along with using a fire pit for cooking, Penny also places coals in a pot to warm her tent. As the days become colder, heat will become more vital in tent city. [Photo © Maryam Ammar]

“I’m playing it day by day,” she said. “One day at a time, one minute at a time.”

Going through a garbage bag filled with used items, Penny smiled as she came across a porcelain teacup set. She said she made coffee every morning with a fire beside her tent. [Photo © Maryam Ammar]
On Nov. 6, not a snowflake was in sight. [Photo © Samantha Pope]
Five days later, the same shoes were covered by Ottawa’s first snowfall of the season. [Photo © Samantha Pope]

The morning after the snowfall, Penny was no longer in her tent, staying instead at a friend’s house nearby. A resident at the site said that she had not been around “for a few days.” 
  The people of tent city are only a small fraction of the many homeless people in Ottawa who will spend the winter in the cold. [Photo © Samantha Pope]