Police say they were dealing with a "break-in" at a local elementary school.
But the Our Homes Can't Wait campaign claimed that the homeless were simply self-isolating in response to instructions by the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Regardless of how the incident was defined, 14 people were arrested last night and this morning at Lord Strathcona elementary in what protesters dubbed the "Kennedy Stewart Squat".
Two of those were taken into custody on the roof at around 8:30 a.m.
“This was a dynamic call and a prolonged, overnight situation for police,” VPD Sgt. Aaron Roed said in a news release. “Police were met with hostile and combative suspects inside the school who, at one point, threw wooden pallets and other large pieces of wood at officers.”
Mayor Kennedy Stewart chairs the Vancouver police board.
Following the arrests, Stewart said in a statement that residents in the Downtown Eastside "are rightfully feeling anxious for their safety".
"Since the beginning of our COVID-19 response, my number one priority has been to make sure our most vulnerable neighbours, especially those that are underhoused, are safe," he insisted. "It’s clear from this action, and the hundreds of conversations I have had with people who work in the Downtown Eastside, that more information is needed about how underhoused and homeless residents can find the shelter they need to stay safe from COVID-19.
"In order to provide clarity and peace of mind, I am asking Minister Shane Simpson—as lead of the cross-ministry team responsible for the Downtown Eastside public health response—to outline his plan for the hundreds of hotel spaces and other shelter beds B.C. Housing has already secured," the mayor continued. "The City of Vancouver has already taken unprecedented action on our own such as expanding access to sanitation, cleaning SROs, delivering thousands of meals to residents, and supplementing incomes of Downtown Eastside residents who lost work due to the closures."
Two community centres—the Evelyne Saller Centre in the Downtown Eastside and the Gathering Place in Downtown South—are offering showers and laundry service to a limited number of homeless people.
But in other parts of Vancouver, homeless people have been unable to even find a Port-o-Potty to use, according to the Straight's homeless blogger, Stanley Q. Woodvine.
The Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism has called on people to leave voice, Twitter, or email messages with the mayor and VPD District 2 commander Lynn Noftle demanding that all the "Stewart Squatters" be released immediately with no charges and no conditions.
The group also wants Vancouver residents to contact school superintendent Suzanne Hoffman to register their concerns that the school is being kept off-limits to the homeless during the pandemic when students are being kept at home.