Homeless activists and supporters have taken over the publicly-owned and vacant North Surrey Recreation Centre in Surrey, declaring it the “Hothouse Squat.”
Squatters argue that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the squat is the safest place available to them to live.
The Hothouse Squatters argue that if the City of Surrey or RCMP evict them from the North Surrey Rec Centre, it would violate their Section 7 Charter Right to “security of the person” by putting them in danger of infection and death from COVID-19. They have named the squat “Hothouse” to draw attention to the dangerous conditions in the shelters, SROs, and modular housing that poor people are warehoused in.
Hothouse Squat founder and modular housing resident Eva Bardonnex said, “Homeless shelters and modular housing buildings are not spaces we can self-isolate from the virus. If one of us gets it, we’ll all get it. Shelters and mods are hothouses for the spread of COVID-19.”
The founders of the Hothouse Squat are calling for poor and homeless communities all over the Province to take over vacant buildings as part of the #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement, in an act of militant self-defense from COVID-19.
A founding declaration released by the Hothouse Squatters explains, “COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for unhoused and underhoused communities because our pandemic did not begin with this virus.” Arguing that “COVID-19 stacks on top of the long pandemic of colonialism and capitalism,” the declaration argues that poor working class and Indigenous people are not waiting for the government to save them. Through the Hothouse Squat, communities are taking action to save themselves.
But the Hothouse Squatters are not letting Canada off the hook. The squat’s founding declaration says, “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.”
The #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement demands
The Province must use 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 access 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.
Read the squat’s three founding declarations
Support the #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement
Sign the open letter supporting the #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement
Donate to our fundraiser
Become a monthly donor of Red Braid to support more organizing and actions like this in the months and years to come