For Immediate Release
December 2 2020
Fearing a worse repeat of the springtime death wave, supportive housing residents demand: “Bust the guest ban!”
UNCEDED KWANTLEN AND KATZIE TERRITORIES: On Wednesday December 2nd, residents and loved ones of three supportive housing buildings operated by Coast Mental Health in Maple Ridge held a rally to demand an immediate end to the renewed building-wide ban on guests.
The rally was overseen by a contingent of a dozen uniformed members of the Ridge Meadows RCMP, bylaw officers, and the newly formed Maple Ridge Community Safety Officers, as well as a few anti-poor bigots with the online hate forum “Protecting Maple Ridge” and the vigilante squad “Clean Up Maple Ridge.” The police and vigilante goons stood together and chatted amiably across the street throughout the event.
Before the rally started, while a half dozen people made signs together in the park across the street, Maple Ridge bylaw served the rally organizers with a $200 bylaw infraction ticket for “conducting unauthorized business” in a park.
Bylaw originally threatened the small group with a ticket for violating the Provincial Health Order but then, when organizers cited the section of the Order that permits “support meetings” and political meetings, the officers retreated, consulted with superiors and decided on a parks bylaw violation instead. When organizers asked what they were doing that was “unauthorized business,” the large group of officers stared back with blank expressions. One said, “it’s about the health order.”
Introducing the speakers, Ivan Drury, an organizer with a new group that called the rally, Maple Ridge Resistance, explained that the community learned, through bitter experience, the human cost of guest bans. Drury said, “We are dedicating this fightback to our loved ones Mama Bear and Bru, who both died on the same day in the spring inside the Alouette Heights supportive housing building, isolated from their community and supports by this guest ban.”
Tracy Scott, a resident of Alouette Heights supportive housing and a founding member of the Maple Ridge Street Outreach Society (MR-SOS), said if it wasn’t for Coast Mental Health’s guest ban then neither Bru nor Mama Bear would have died.
Tracy Scott shifted her notes into one hand to lower her mask and explain, “Bru died of an overdose with his head down on his kitchen table, alone. I had been doing floor to floor room checks on people until the staff locked down the elevator so we could only go to our own floors.”
“Mama Bear was dying of cancer but she was sleeping out on the sidewalk outside her building every night because it was better to be outside with her loved ones than inside her room alone. She was in so much pain that she went inside to her room and she died in her bed alone,” Scott said.
Linda “Mama Bear” Whitford had been a leader in Indigenous street community struggle. In a statement she wrote just weeks before she passed away, Mama Bear characterized Coast Mental Health’s control over guests as a continuation of colonizers’ attack on Indigenous peoples. Colonial power, she said, is in the laws that steal kids from Indigenous families, and it is also the petty power of the supportive housing desk clerks that divide and break up Indigenous street kin families.
Coast Mental Health’s guest ban belongs in the category of extra-legal, petty desk clerk power that works only because of the structural disempowerment of low-income Indigenous and working-class people. While British Columbia’s health authorities have issued a range of physical distancing restrictions and recommendations to combat the spread of Covid-19, the Provincial Health Authority has not given landlords the power to override tenants’ rights to have guests in their homes. The responsibility to determine which two loved ones each person wants in their home circle is delegated to everyone individually.
Tracy Scott expressed the frustration of supportive housing residents who cannot exercise their basic rights, saying, “We have the right to see our community! It doesn’t matter if you’re in social housing, it doesn’t matter if you’re living in supportive housing instead of a condo; it does not change that!”
A joint statement released in May by a group of legal organizations including Pivot Legal Society, CLAS, TRAC, First United Advocates, and TAPS Victoria said that supportive housing operators were also abusing the rights of tenants with these arbitrary guest bans. Their statement explains:
[Banning guests is] in direct contravention of section 30 (1) (b) of the Residential Tenancy Act, which stipulates that: a landlord must not unreasonably restrict access to residential property by a person permitted on the residential property by that tenant. This section of the RTA is core to tenants’ right of access and is intended to protect individual tenants and their guests from unreasonable interference by landlords. Both the BC Supreme Court and the BC Court of Appeal have confirmed that building-wide guest bans are not a reasonable restriction.
Justin, who lives in one of the Coast Mental Health modular housing buildings, said he is worried that the consequences could be even worse this time than in the spring. He said the weather is worse, and it’s Christmas time so people are already more prone to social isolation and depression.
“Living in modular housing is like living in a jail cell,” he said. “It’s already depressing. I painted my room three times since Covid started because it’s so depressing. Locking out our friends makes it so much worse. I sit in my room and wonder and worry.”
Justin said that poor, inconsistent communication and arbitrary decision making from Coast Mental Health is disorienting and intimidating. “Coast makes decisions without talking to residents, they don’t tell us what’s going on, and they treat residents with different rules,” he said.
Justin is a big man who doesn’t have a lot of living space in his 8×10 modular housing room, but he says he feels better when his girlfriend Krista is allowed to be there. Especially, he said, after she had an unexpected birth this fall. He said, “We didn’t know Krista was pregnant; we found out late and then our kid was born early. It was surprising and we didn’t know what to do.”
Krista, at the time, was homeless and staying with Justin as many nights as Coast Mental Health staff would allow her. She said the staff called the police to come into Justin’s room and throw her out many times, even while she was pregnant and otherwise stuck on the street. She said the police never explained why she had to leave. “They don’t give me any reason. The cops come and knock on my door and tell me to get out,” she said.
“When they threw me out, I was pregnant and it was the middle of winter. It was cold and I didn’t have anywhere else to stay,” Krista said.
Krista’s experience shows that Coast Mental Health persistently uses unlawful guest ban policies, not only during the pandemic. And she explained that the irregular and arbitrary use of guest rules put more of a strain on her while she was homeless. “They say my boyfriend has already had me stay there 14 days and that’s all he’s allowed for the year. But other people have their girlfriends stay all the time,” Krista said.
Krista gave birth in the Ridge Meadows hospital in October, and her baby, who was born premature, was put into ICU. But Krista was not allowed to stay with her newborn. She said “the hospital staff just suddenly one morning told me I had to leave, that I was discharged.”
Justin said that he was frustrated that the hospital social worker didn’t ever talk to Krista about getting a place to live, that it felt like they just threw her out in the streets. But he talked to Coast Mental Health and arranged that she could stay with him “at least a few days a week.”
That suddenly changed when Coast Mental Health shut down all guest access to the building. Justin said he’s worried about Krtista’s wellbeing; that they’re both upset and under stress because their newborn child is still in the Ridge Meadows ICU and they’re not even able to visit because of the pandemic. His room sits empty while he stays out in the streets with his homeless partner who is not allowed in his room.
Another unhoused man named Mike said lots of people are stuck out on the streets thanks to the guest ban, and it’s a hard time to be on the streets. “If you don’t have money to spend then everything is closed down because of Covid,” he said. “All the food servings are closed down and there’s nowhere to go.”
Mike has been staying on the streets of Maple Ridge for two years, since around the time Anita Place tent city was shut down. “I’ve tried to get into the Caring Place shelter and they always send me away. I went to Alouette services and the guy asked me where I’m sleeping. I said I’m sleeping on the ground. And he went inside and threw out a mattress at me and said there you go now you’re off the ground.”
The only respite Mike gets from the streets is staying with his friend Jody, who lives in one of the Coast Mental Health modular housing buildings, which people refer to on the streets as “the mods.” Mike said, “Now it’s so cold that I can’t sleep at night so I stay up and walk around. Sometimes I don’t sleep for 11 days. When I can stay with Jody in her room in the mods I get a break. It gives me a fresh lease on life. It lets me survive the next few days. It gives me hope.”
Mike’s experience highlights a poorly understood aspect of housing policy in Canada. The end of the line of the endless offloading of housing responsibility, from Federal to Provincial to Municipal government ends with the burden of housing the poor on the shoulders of the poor themselves. There is hardly a supportive housing room, no matter how small, or a rent subsidized house, no matter how far afield, that is not full to bursting with ‘guests.’ It is a bitter irony that the same government agencies that offload housing responsibility to the poor then punish and evict those same low-income people for helping their friends survive.
Ted was the last speaker at the rally. He explained why the community was coming together to fight back against this guest policy. Ted has lived in Coast Mental Health’s “permanent” modular housing building, which is the newest of the supportive housing projects in Maple Ridge. He said he feels that the pandemic guest ban is consistent with how Coast treats residents all the time. A blunt speaker, Ted said, “They treat us like warehoused cattle.”
Ted said that as soon as he heard about the guest ban he went to speak to management. He rattled off his Residential Tenancy Rights chapter and verse, and said that Coast did not have the right to ban guests. When that didn’t work, he said, “I tried to appeal to them. I asked them if they’re ready to accept the consequences of their actions. In the spring they killed 8 of my friends. Now I’m afraid it’s going to be worse. But it just went in one ear and out the other. They didn’t care.”
When asked if Coast Mental Health can expect more protest if they don’t lift the guest ban now, Ted simply said, “Yes. We have to fight back because our lives are in danger.”
Maple Ridge Resistance, and this group of supportive housing residents and their loved ones are determined to continue this struggle until they “bust the guest ban.”
Statement released by Maple Ridge Resistance and Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism