Homeless activists storm the Tri-Cities Homelessness Task Force, chanting “You Talk, We Die!”

This morning, a group of ten homeless activists and Alliance Against Displacement organizers stormed the Homelessness and Housing Task Force meeting in Port Coquitlam. We chanted, “You talk, we die!” and demanded that the Task Force advocate for the Tri-Cities Councils to declare the city-owned property at 3030 Gorden for permanent, Residential Tenancy Act-protected social housing. 

In between chanting, two Tri-Cities residents, Niki and Tami, read out a statement explaining that the Task Force has done nothing to stop or even mitigate homelessness – and is, in fact, part of the Tri-Cities’ strategy of using police, bylaw officers, and shelters to hide and manage, rather than end, homelessness. Homeless activists told the Task Force that we are done sitting on the sidelines while bureaucrats pat themselves on the back. If the Tri-Cities refuse to petition and support the Provincial and Federal governments to build social housing, the homeless community will continue to take action into its own hands.

Police immediately threatened to arrest us for mischief. When we saw one officer reach for his handcuffs, we decided to make a quick exit, chanting, “Homelessness is not a crime!” We gathered outside to debrief the action and discuss how to continue fighting for housing in the Tri-Cities. Niki said, “We’re starting to get noticed. We’re a thorn in their side, but we’ve got to keep organizing until we’re a great big thorny bush!”

YOU TALK WE DIE!

Statement to Tri-Cities Homelessness & Housing Task Force

Homeless people exist! Two years after former PoCo Mayor Greg Moore claimed “we don’t have any chronically homeless people living on our streets,” the 2017 homeless count found 117 homeless people in all of the Tri-Cities. Despite the drastic increase found in the 2017 homeless count, which is itself an underestimate, nothing is being done to address the homelessness crisis in the Tri-Cities. Social workers cannot outreach us into housing that does not exist. RCMP and Bylaw officers have forced us into hiding and made us feel unwelcome in our own cities. But we are not hiding anymore.

We are tired of being treated as threats to “the public” by police and bylaw—we are as much a part of the public as business and property owners. And we are also tired of being treated as charity cases by non-profits that rely on doling out services to us to get their funding but refuse to recognize our political leadership and agency. Our activism breaks through these dehumanizing, complementary definitions of poor people as either criminals or passive unfortunates in need of paternalism. We are doing what bureaucrats and politicians don’t have the guts to do: we are taking action to push for the change needed to end—not cover up—homelessness.

1) HOMES NOT SHELTERS

We call for the Tri-Cities Councils to declare the City-owned property at 3030 Gordon for social housing, and for BC Housing and the Federal government to build homes here. Homeless shelters manage and maintain homelessness; to end homelessness we need social housing built by governments using tax dollars, with rents fixed at welfare shelter rate and affordable to people on basic pension and with the lowest incomes.

Our community-based “homeless peoples registry” has counted 67 people living on the streets in just one part of Coquitlam. There are hundreds of homeless people in the Tri-Cities, and thousands living on the edge of homelessness. We are calling for 200 modular housing homes to be built immediately and for the Province to build 10,000 units of social housing every year throughout BC, including in the Tri-Cities.

2) TENANT RIGHTS NOT “SUPPORTIVE HOUSING”

We demand more than the basic survival offered to us by shelters and supportive housing: we demand homes. Home is having your own room, your own door you can close and lock. Home is a place where your kids can live or visit you. Home is being able to turn off the lights to sleep and turn up the heat if you’re cold or open a window if you’re hot. Home is feeling safe and not having to keep your guard up. It is having a friend over to play cards. “Supportive housing” pathologizes and dehumanizes us. Supportive housing insists that poor people are not entitled to the same rights and autonomy as rich people. Supportive housing continues to break up Indigenous peoples’ families at a time of so-called reconciliation. 

3) RECOGNIZE POOR PEOPLE’S LEADERSHIP

Homeless people are not an exceptional group: we are working class and Indigenous people forced into vulnerability, brutal treatment by police and bylaw, social marginalization, stigma, displacement, and death by economic and colonial policies. We are pushing for housing, the most basic of human necessities, not just on behalf of people who are currently homeless, but for people who are one or two pay cheques away—even for people who hate us not because we’re different, but because we’re a reminder of their own economic precarity. Ignoring our agency, expertise, and leadership only serves to maintain this crisis, and we won’t be ignored any longer.

See our Twitter (@stopdisplacemnt) for the livestream of the action.