The pandemic is putting stress on everyone, but it's hit people who are experiencing homelessness even harder. Activists took over a Vancouver school in protest of the conditions of vulnerable populations in the city and a lack of housing. The police came and arrested everyone but only after a 12-hour confrontation.
Around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, 14 people entered the Lord Strathcona elementary school in Vancouver.
Listen Chen, a member of the Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism, told Narcity it was a mix of advocates and people currently experiencing homelessness.
A few made their way to the rooftop, while others stayed below and barricaded the doors. They held up a banner that read "#Squat2SurviveCOVID-19" and declared they were staying the night.
Thirty minutes later, Vancouver police were called to the scene.
"This was a dynamic call and a prolonged, overnight situation for police," said Sergeant Aaron Roed, VPD, in a statement.
Chen said they expected a police response, but this was more than they'd imagined.
"We had barricaded the doors as a safety measure. The police had some kind of giant saw that they used to saw through two of the doors," she said.
Three people surrendered immediately to the police and were arrested.
"The rest of us decided that we would peacefully choose not to comply with their orders," Chen continued.
BREAKING: Homeless & underhoused residents of Vancouver's DTES take over a vacant school building, launching the… https://t.co/RzSTTB3Vl7— Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism (@Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism)1587257072.0
Roed disagreed. "Police were met with hostile and combative suspects inside the school who, at one point, threw wooden pallets and other large pieces of wood at officers."
Chen called Roed's statement a "complete lie."
In the end, all 14 people, including Chen, were arrested. The engagement lasted through the night until 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Roed told Narcity that "charges are expected in the future."
The #StewartSquat is being released from jail. Squatters are being charged with BNE & Mischief, but this will not b… https://t.co/Y883ZuapdQ— Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism (@Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism)1587332887.0
https://t.co/N54A5kOugj— Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism (@Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism)1587288294.0
Chen said the squat was to raise awareness and protest the housing situation in Vancouver.
Despite measures like opening some hotels and buildings up for people experiencing homelessness, it's not enough. People are still without shelter, she said.
The City of Vancouver told Narcity that while they respect that the situation is challenging, "breaking into and occupying schools and other buildings is not an appropriate or lawful way to protest."
A spokesperson for the city told us there are 478 spaces in hotels and emergency response centres. They're also working to secure food and cleaning support for SROs and "actively working to address other critical needs as they emerge."
Karen says “Trudeau says there’s hotels for the poor but is a lie. This is Trudeau’s truth. The VPD evicting us fro… https://t.co/kTxp7Zv1fn— Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism (@Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism)1587285273.0
After their experience, Chen says they're already planning more demonstrations.
"I think our collective unity was actually tempered by the experience of confronting the naked barrel of Canada's gun," she said.