Vancouver: Our Homes Can’t Wait statement on the Strathcona squat

On Saturday April 18th, our members and supporters organized the Kennedy Stewart Squat in the Downtown Eastside to provide emergency shelter for unhoused and underhoused residents seeking space during the COVID-19 global health pandemic. It has been heartening to receive support for the squat in our community and our member organizations. The squat was also supported by Vancouver School Board commissioners, following cities in Ontario, Massachusetts, Arkansas and elsewhere that have used schools for emergency shelter during the coronavirus pandemic. It has also been a sign of the success of the squat that, in the days following the repression of the squat with the arrest of 14 squatters, both the City and Provincial government made statements that they are taking measures to provide housing for homeless residents in BC, and that the “anxieties of DTES residents are justified.” We feel partially vindicated by these statements, but unfortunately the provincial government’s current plans are seriously lacking.

Our objective with this squat was twofold: to protect ourselves from the harms of COVID-19 while pressuring the government for immediate and long-term housing solutions. In the short term, the government must open some of the existing 12,000 units of tourist hotels as has been done in cities like Toronto and San Francisco. There are at least 8,000 homeless people in BC. In Vancouver alone, at least 2,500 people are living in the streets. Another 4,700 live in private SROs where access to COVID-safe washing facilities is not available, and 2,000 in government-owned SROs, where again washing facilities are shared, scarce, and significantly under-maintained. We therefore estimate that there are at least 8,500 people in Vancouver for which it is impossible to follow basic provincial COVID-19 protocol.
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