Earlier today, homeless and underhoused residents of the Downtown Eastside took over a vacant and shuttered building on the city-owned grounds of Lord Strathcona Elementary School, launching the second squat in the #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement: the Kennedy Stewart Squat!

The squatters explain:

We’ve named our squat after Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, whose policies of opening Vancouver to business and closing buildings to the poor are clearing the way for the COVID-19 pandemic to spread unchecked through the streets and shelters of the Downtown Eastside. While the Mayor celebrates the installation of hand washing units in the Downtown Eastside, we are dying in alleys, tents, shelters, modular housing, and SROs. Rather than watch our friends die while we wait for politicians like Stewart to throw us some crumbs, we are taking action into our own hands.

Like the Hothouse Squat in Surrey, the Stewart Squat argues that displacing homeless and underhoused people from the safety of an empty building would put them at greater danger of dying of COVID-19 and violate their Section 7 Charter Rights. But in order to be a functional safe haven from the dangers of poverty and the pandemic, the Stewart Squat needs your help!

Help defend the Stewart Squat

Tell politicians and police: hands off the Stewart Squat!

There are friends and family members waiting to join the Stewart Squat, but they won’t be able to unless we defend the squat from eviction. Reach out to police and politicians and tell them to back off the Stewart Squat and let the courts decide on the squatters’ Charter claim.

Here’s a sample message for politicians:

I’m reaching out to express my support for the Stewart Squat in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I’m concerned that if squatters are displaced back into homelessness and unsafe living conditions like shelters and SROs, it will put them at increased risk of dying from COVID-19. As the owner of the vacant building the squatters are occupying, the City of Vancouver has a responsibility to ensure that it does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in any of its actions. As the land owner, the City should instruct the Vancouver Police to refrain from evicting the squatters.

Here’s a sample message for the police:

I’m reaching out to express my support for the Stewart Squat in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I’m concerned that if the Vancouver Police evict squatters from the safety of a publicly-owned, vacant building, it will increase their vulnerability to dying of COVID-19 and violate their Section 7 Charter right to “security of the person.” The VPD can set enforcement priorities and should refuse to enforce the Criminal Code against the squatters so long as their Charter claim is outstanding and not yet presented to a court. If the City requests the VPD evict the squat, the VPD should refuse unless the City is able to obtain an injunction.

Call and leave a message for District Commander Lynn Noftle at 604-717-2778

Email the VPD

Call and leave a message for Mayor Stewart at 604-873-7621 (press “1” to leave a message)

Email Mayor Stewart & City Council

Tweet at Mayor and City Council

The Stewart Squat endorses the #SQUAT2SURVIVE movement’s four 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 for admission to COVID emergency shelters and hotels is a setup that is causing a widespread outbreak in poor communities.

There are tens of thousands of empty hotel units all over British Columbia that the NDP government has the power, under the Province’s state of emergency declaration, to take and use in order to house anyone on the streets or in shelters that put them in danger of contracting COVID-19. In downtown Vancouver alone there are 12,000 hotels, the vast majority of which are unoccupied. We demand that the Province make use of these empty spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in communities that colonialism and capitalism targets for destruction.

Allow immediate access for anyone who wants to enter hotels and government-run emergency shelters, but do not force anyone inside. Stop street sweeps and all enforcement of bylaws and criminal code laws that criminalize poverty, homelessness, drug use, and informal and illicit economies like sex work.

Make a safe, high quality supply of opiates, stimulants, tobacco, alcohol, 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. Supply nutritious food to all who need it, COVID-19 testing for all members of vulnerable communities whether or not they have symptoms, and make sure everyone has access to cleaning supplies and sanitary living conditions. Close the information gap by suspending phone bills and providing free internet and cellular data across BC.

Make welfare and disability $2000/month to match the Canada Emergency Response Benefit 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.