This evening, the Our Homes Can't Wait campaign opened a new front in their long-running fight for housing for the poor.
OHCW and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users activists held a news conference in the Downtown Eastside this evening to announce a new encampment on public property.
It's being dubbed the "Kennedy Stewart Squat", in reference to Vancouver's mayor, and it's in the empty northwest complex of Lord Strathcona school.
According to the two groups, it will "act as a home and a safer place to protect our unhoused and underhoused communities against the danger of infection and death by COVID-19".
“When you are living on the streets there is no way to follow COVID safety measures, there’s no way to keep your hands clean," organizer Flora Munroe of the Misipawiatuk Cree Nation said in a news release. "All the bathrooms are closed and there’s no running water, and there’s no good healthy food to eat.”
She suggested that Indigenous people—who make up a disproportionate number of the homeless in comparison to their ratio in the general population—will be the ones to die as a result of the lack of services.
"It’s genocide all the time," Munroe declared. "It feels like the government is taking the opportunity to get rid of Indigenous people.”
The two groups attributed higher rates of respiratory and immune system failure in Indigenous communities to colonialism.
They object to the provincial and federal governments urging everyone to stay home while continuing to allow thousands of British Columbians to remain homeless.
Places where the homeless can go—such as libraries, community centres, coffee shops, and fast-food outlets—have been closed for weeks.
However, the City of Vancouver has kept the Carnegie Centre open in the Downtown Eastside for takeout meals.
The Evelyne Saller Centre in the Downtown Eastside also offers takeout meals and a limit of 40 laundry loads per day and a maximum of 36 showers for homeless people per day from Mondays to Fridays.
Similarly, the Gathering Place in Downtown South offers daily shower service on a first-come, first-served basis, as well as laundry service.
On April 7, the province announced that 900 spaces had been secured for homeless people at 234 locations across B.C.
On April 4, the federal government pledged $13.5 million to fund the Reaching Home initiative in Vancouver. This money will fund beds and physical barriers to provide social distancing and reduce overcrowding in shelters.
The Straight's homeless blogger, Stanley Q. Woodvine, has been chronicling what it's like for people living in the streets and parkades since the pandemic was declared on March 11.
Below, you can see some of his recent tweets.