Summer 2020 was set to be the first time Pamphinette Buisa’s cleats would dig into the turf on the Olympic stage. However, the Canadian rugby sevens player started working in a hotel after COVID-19 postponed the Tokyo Games.
The sudden change shook the Victoria athlete’s reality, but when the hotel where she was working became a temporary housing space, she met people whose world had been impacted far more than her own.
It was hearing from those people, who share the city she now calls home, about how they couldn’t afford rent or lost their jobs due to the pandemic that turned Buisa’s focus to homelessness.
“I think that was the biggest eye-opener for me and that’s why a lot of my continued community organizing has centred around community care,” Buisa said.
She’s one of three members of the sevens team involved in a small group — made up of Caroline Crossley, Charity Williams, Caleb Asfaw, Vanessa Simon, Ciel Arbour Boehme and Percy Percival-Patersonthat’s — that’s raising funds to get necessary items — like batteries, warm clothes, food and water — to the city’s unhoused.
The Stand with Meegan GoFundMe is almost two-thirds of the way to its $15,000 goal and aims to provide Beacon Hill’s vulnerable population with resources they may not be receiving from government programs.
Though the need was already there, Buisa said the pandemic accelerated and amplified impacts on low-income and unhoused people. She’s worried about what will happen to people when the city reinstates a bylaw that prohibits 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. public camping.
“COVID-19 is still here, so if people are not in housing and they’re not in homes, what’s going to happen?” she said. “Having to displace yourself with not knowing a sort of solution is something that is terrifying to a lot of people.”
Buisa hears these concerns when she and her friends go to Beacon Hill to talk with people there. For her, it comes down to just showing up, whether that’s helping people get essentials or just being there as a friend.
“When we’re talking about decisions in certain spaces, we exclude those who we’re creating that care for,” she said. “Whenever we’re making decisions about how we’re going to treat the homeless, how many times are we consulting the homeless.”
|Pam Buisa, one of the organizers of last summer's Black Lives Matter event, lifts her first in solidarity with the movement.
Breaking down the stigma of homelessness takes looking past the surface, Buisa said.
“Often times we see someone who’s unhoused or talk to someone who’s unhoused and just make assumptions of why they’re there,” she said. “We’re not that different, but the different opportunities that we’ve been extended really affect how you move and continue to operate in today’s society.”
Buisa said the sevens squad’s preparation is ramping up ahead of the Tokyo Games. While the pandemic isolated the teammates, being together everyday again has Buisa taking stock of what she previously overlooked. It’s made her see how much she values the time between matches, like the highs and lows and of grueling training sessions, being annoyed by a teammate or simply laughing with each other.
“I realized how much I missed it and how important it is to capitalize on every moment. It’s the everyday of seeing each other and the joys of that,” she said, adding the team is ready to go for gold.
“It’s going to be a very different Olympics, but I also know it’s going to be our Olympics.”