Unhoused and underhoused communities seize the vacant North Surrey Recreation Centre in Surrey Centre to create and fight for homes safer than the streets, shelters, and modular housing that are becoming COVID-19 hothouses

We acknowledge that the Hothouse Squat is on the unceded and occupied territory of the Kwantlen, Katzie, Qayqat, and Kwikwetlem nations. The Hothouse Squat is not making a claim to title or ownership of the lands under the 104th mall; we pledge to use this vacant building and lands in a good way, for the collective benefit of our low-income and health-threatened communities.

Today we are opening the Hothouse Squat as a home and a safer place to protect our unhoused and underhoused communities against the danger of infection and death by COVID-19.

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for unhoused and underhoused communities because our pandemic did not begin with this virus. Our pandemic is colonialism, which is a global system of land theft that displaces and dispossesses Indigenous peoples all over the world, and within Canada’s borders. COVID-19 stacks on top of the long pandemic of colonialism, hitting Indigenous peoples in cramped reserve housing, and threatening to kill Indigenous peoples who colonialism has cursed with tuberculosis and COPD, diabetes, and asthma; intergenerational diseases of poverty.

COVID-19 piles on our long pandemic of capitalism that values profit over people and calculates our lives and deaths on a balance sheet that accounts us as expendable, and our communities as sacrifice zones. Minimum wage service workers who can’t take days off bring the infection back to our families packed into 1 bedroom apartments. Poor people who don’t have savings or incomes or homes can’t even recognize the danger of the virus because it is coexisting with so many other dangers.

The outbreak of a highly contagious virus that kills people with compromised immune systems and lung conditions is a moment of crisis within the long pandemic that Canada visits upon us.

We are occupying a vacant building because Canada has left us no choice.

Our communities are left on the streets where we cannot eat because COVID-19 health orders have shut down food services and where we cannot sleep because COVID-19 has closed and frozen shelter beds. But police and bylaw officers still push us out of doorways and further into huddled danger.

Our communities are locked up in homeless shelters and modular housing buildings that are becoming COVID-19 hothouses. If one person in the shelter shows symptoms, the shelter policy is to send that one person to isolation and leave the rest of us packed in, shoulder to shoulder. Shelters protect the public from the homeless, they do not protect us from the virus.

We are making the claim that displacing us from the Hothouse Squat, and every squat to come within the #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement would violate our Section 7 Charter Right to security of the person. The Hothouse Squat makes us safer than the street, shelters, and modular housing because here we have access to enough space to socially isolate. Here we can follow the recommendations of the health authority more completely than in any other place available to us under Canada’s disastrous mismanagement of the crisis.

If governments or police force us out of our squat and back into streets where we can’t eat or sleep, and cramped, unhygienic shelters, they would be taking away our ability to protect ourselves, putting unhoused and underhoused people in danger of infection with COVID-19, with a high likelihood of death.

The #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement is not a protest movement. Unhoused and underhoused communities are resisting the society that is treating us as a public health danger in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that makes us, more than any other community, more likely to die from viral infection. We hope that the Hothouse Squat in Surrey will be a spark in the tinderbox of pandemics that poor, Indigenous, unhoused, and underhoused communities refuse to weather any longer.

The #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement demands

  • Homes Now
    The Province must us
    e its emergency power to take (not negotiate-for) and use hotels to house every person in shelters, on the streets, in temporary modular housing, SRO hotels, overcrowded reserve and urban Indigenous housing, and for all women and children fleeing elevated violence during the COVID-19 home isolation conditions. Requiring health referral and obvious symptoms for admission to low income safe centres is a setup that is organizing a widespread outbreak in poor communities.

  • Stop Policing the Crisis
    Allow immediate acc
    ess for anyone who wants to enter hotels and government-run emergency shelters, but do not force anyone inside. Stop all enforcement of bylaws and criminal code laws that criminalize poverty, homelessness, drug use, and sex work.

  • Health Care and Safe Supply for All
    Make a safe supply of opiates and stimulants, as well as feminine hygiene products, pregnancy tests and birth control, diapers and baby wipes, and Hormone Replacement Therapy medications available at pharmacies without prescription and without cost.

  • Economic Support for the Poor
    Make welfare and disability $2000/month to match the temporary federal emergency service EI package and make the upgraded EI package accessible to everyone not already on social assistance, including temporary foreign workers and non-status people, and people who work in illicit and informal economies.

Here in Surrey we are using a vacant community centre that was shuttered by the city as part of its aggressive, Surrey City Centre gentrification plan. The City Centre Plan aims to eradicate the neighborhood’s homeless and poor communities in order to make way for high rise condo and office towers.

On top of the four #SQUAT2SURVIVE demands, we are calling for the conversion of the long-empty mall on 104th, owned by real estate speculators in Arizona, and the North Surrey Recreation Centre, owned by the City of Surrey and planned to be gentrified into high end retail and more university space, into 100% social housing.

There are empty hotels all over the Province that could immediately, under the Province’s state of emergency declaration, take and use these hotels to house anyone on the streets or in a COVID-19 hothouse. In Surrey, three large hotels with a total of over 500 rooms—Civic Hotel, Sheraton Vancouver Guildford, and Ramada by Wyndham—are closed, and another 900 hotel rooms are currently unoccupied. We demand that the Province make use of these empty spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in communities most vulnerable to death.