In the aftermath of the brutal RCMP take down of the Schoolhouse Squat – an action devoted to building homeless people’s autonomy and survival by holding space in an abandoned public school – social media has become a hotbed of slander and outright lies. Nanaimo-Ladysmith School Board Chair Steve Rae shared photos of the school that were taken after the RCMP and the Emergency Response Team busted down doors and entered the building to remove organizers. The photos have since gone viral, with over 1,400 shares on Facebook. According to Rae and others of his ilk, these photos are evidence that the squat caused over $100,000 worth of damage to Rutherford Community School. In reality, the school was left already in disarray, with school supplies and trash strewn everywhere, after Rae and other school trustees voted to shut its doors, which was a response to government cutbacks – part of a larger austerity project pushed by BC Liberals and continued by the BC NDP. Rae also posted photos of harm reduction supplies left behind after squatters were forced to vacate the school – an attempt to shame, blame, and attack people for taking the life-saving measures they need to survive. If squatters had not brought harm reduction supplies into the school, there is a chance Rae would have found dead bodies instead of rigs. When people in positions of power like Rae weaponize moral panic against harm reduction, it sends the messages that they not only don’t care, but would actually prefer if homeless people die.
Rae’s economic bottomline masks the true costs of homelessness. The cold-hearted, neoliberal logic that protests the costs of “remediating” spaces that homeless people have moved through (as though the homeless are contaminants not people) turns a blind eye to the other side of austerity budget cuts: massive increases in police funding that ensure that poor, racialized, and Indigenous people remain criminalized and marginalized. Rae’s message is clear: that the comfort and hatred of bigots is worth more than the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors. The massive, militarized raid on 24 peaceful occupiers is part and parcel of the Province and City’s approach to self-organized homeless people, which is to deploy the police in order to depoliticize their struggles and render them invisible. Rather than continuing to invest millions of dollars in needless policing and contracts with non-profit supportive housing providers that pathologize and surveil homeless people, the Province could and should build dignified social housing. The money is there to end homelessness, but the will is petrified by the state’s consistent dehumanization of homeless people.