The group of about 30 activists, many of whom also live in the Downtown Eastside, broke into Lord Strathcona School on Saturday evening, using a vacant building as “emergency accommodation” for people who say they have no nowhere to go.
Spokespeople say homeless people in Vancouver need safe spaces to isolate themselves during the COVID-19 crisis, arguing that it is impossible for these people to exercise physical distance and follow provincial guidelines. stay at home.
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“We’re just trying to find a safe place to go,” activist Dwayne Martin told Global News. “They said there were places to go, [but] we don’t do anything for street people. “
Martin and another protester went to the roof of the building after large teams of Vancouver police arrived to clean up the school.
A Vancouver Fire Department ladder truck had to be brought in to allow the police to safely access the roof, where the police pulled back the activists.
Vancouver police say they were called to school around 6 p.m. Saturday. The 14 people arrested barricaded themselves inside the school after having forced their way into it. Other members of the group remained outside and were ordered to disperse.
“The police encountered hostile and combative suspects inside the school who at one point threw wooden pallets and other large pieces of wood at officers,” said Sgt. – word. Aaron Roed said in a statement.
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No officer was injured during the night operation, said Roed, “despite the assault and violent behavior of the suspects.”
Police found sleeping bags, tools and alcohol inside the school and informed the Vancouver School Board of the potential damage to the building.
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Charges will be laid against the activists who have been arrested, police said.
Martin and other activists involved in the protest are members of the Red Braid Alliance, a protest collective that participated in solidarity demonstrations and the Wet’suwet’en roadblocks in Metro Vancouver earlier this year.
The group also advocated on behalf of homeless camps from the tented town of Anita Place in Maple Ridge to the camp in Oppenheimer Park.
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With DTES supporters warning of a “catastrophic” human cost if COVID-19 travels to the region and other homeless populations, calls are increasing for the opening of more housing to protect people vulnerable to disease.
Victoria City Council has called on the province to vacate vacant hotel rooms to house those in need, which Vancouver should also do, Fiona York of the Carnegie Community Action Project told Global News to Lord Strathcona.
“There are approximately 12,000 hotels in the city of Vancouver, and most are vacant,” said York. “So there are thousands of hotel rooms that could be used right now.”
Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Judy Darcy said earlier this month that the province has secured 367 press spaces in hotels and community centers for the homeless, and expanded access to 200 winter refuge beds.
Makeshift shelters are now operating in Roundhouse and Coal Harbor community centers in Vancouver, with Mayor Kennedy Stewart saying they are already full.
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The city also contracted a commercial cleaner for Priority Single Occupancy (SRO) hotels, and added hand cleaning, bathroom and shower facilities to DTES.
But activists like Isobel Krupp, another member of the Red Braid Alliance, said that homeless people are still not treated with the compassion they need to weather the public health crisis.
“People who are poor on the streets, people who are indigenous, who have no place yet, are abandoned or faced with state repression,” she said on the roof of the building. school.
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Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart made a statement following the school occupation, expressing his sympathy for the homeless populations seeking safety during the pandemic.
The mayor has stated that he is asking Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson to provide detailed plans for the “hundreds of hotel spaces and other accommodations” already secured by BC Housing for use during the crisis.
“It is clear from this action, and from the hundreds of conversations I have had with people who work in the Downtown Eastside, that more information is needed on how homeless and homeless residents can find the shelter they need to stay safe from COVID-19, “Stewart said in the statement.
Activists said the takeover was to send a message to Stewart to open city hotels for the homeless.
—With files from Simon Little
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