#SquatTheEmpties! Nanaimo’s Schoolhouse Squat opened to resist Court-ordered collective punishment and end homelessness
We acknowledge that the Schoolhouse Squat is on the territory of the Snuneymuxw nation, treatied in the 1854 “Douglas” Treaty, which guarantees Snuneymuxw sovereignty over their lands and waters, and which Canada does not honour. The Schoolhouse Squat is not making a claim to title or ownership of the lands under the Rutherford school, we pledge to use the building and lands in a good way.
Today we are opening the Schoolhouse Squat as a home for the hundreds of homeless people displaced by a brutal and unjust displacement order won by the City of Nanaimo from the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
For five months, Discontent City has been a home to the homeless — in camp we were unhoused, but we made a home. The government and courts are trying to make us homeless again, and we will not go along with it. It is not right to call the Schoolhouse Squat a protest against the injustice of the court injunction, it is resistance against Canada’s collective punishment to homeless people who organize and fight back. We are resisting the death sentence dealt to our most vulnerable homeless friends by Judge Skolrod’s order to displace over 300 people to nowhere.
A protest would appeal for the government to help. We know the government is not going to help homeless people. The court-ordered displacement of Discontent City and Camp Namegans in Saanich is proof that the government and the Court wants homeless people to go away and die. We know that these powerful bodies are whipping up an anti-homeless hatred in the public. We have seen the City, Police, and Province stand by silently while a mob of hundreds gathered at our gates to assault us. We have heard the government and law use the same language as the anti-homeless mob: that the homeless are outsiders, that the homeless are dangerous, that the homeless are a threat to public order. The Schoolhouse Squat is resistance, not a protest because to beg for help from those who hate us would be a naive hope that we cannot afford while the government and courts conspire to disorganize us and scatter us into dangerous isolation.
Displacement is a court-ordered death sentence
The Court’s displacement ruling says that night-by-night park camping is good enough for homeless people. The City has offered less than 70 shelter beds to more than 300 camp residents and said we can camp in some parks between the hours of 7pm and 9am. This is not a favour, this is a death sentence.
In preparation for Discontent City’s October 12th eviction date, the City of Nanaimo has introduced amendments to Parks and Recreation Bylaws to further criminalize homelessness. These amendments include $150 fines for activities associated with homelessness, including: erecting a shelter during the day, having a shopping cart, building any kind of structure, leaving personal belongings, and a number of vague laws that give bylaw officers the power to fine people for pretty much anything, including for “fail to obey person in charge of activity,” for “remain when directed to leave,” and doing “activity contrary to signs” and “activity not designated.” These fines penalize homeless people for existing in the parks where Judge Skolrod has ordered them to go. By enforcing fines people can’t pay, homeless people are also at risk of being red-zoned from the area, which will isolate homeless people from their community and resources, until they are pushed back into the woods and shadows to die. We refuse to submit to these anti-homeless, discriminatory bylaws.
The Schoolhouse Squat is resisting the society that wants us to die by using a publicly-owned empty building as the housing we need to save our lives. We are using the Rutherford school that has been abandoned by governments that prioritizes tax cuts for corporations over education for children as housing for the homeless. We stand against corporate tax cuts and government program cuts.
The Schoolhouse Squat is resisting the government campaign of breaking up up our lifesaving community – which is larger than Nanaimo. Homeless people are not only being attacked in Nanaimo; in Saanich, Vancouver, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Vernon, Kamloops, Kelowna, Kitimat, Victoria, Langley, and every other town and city in BC people are sleeping on the cold and wet streets while buildings stand empty. We are calling for homeless people and people facing evictions and people paying more than they can afford to rent to #squattheempties. There are more than 10,000 people homeless in BC and we don’t have to be. Let us take empty buildings and use them. Our homes can’t wait for politicians.
We are not calling only for currently homeless people to join us. The only ones who benefit from upholding a unique category of “the homeless” are the social service agencies who compete for funding by showing that they can absorb and control people who are homeless in their programming. Governments, police, social workers, and corporations want to spread the myth that homeless people have something uniquely wrong with them that has to be fixed before they can be housed. This is bullshit. Homeless people are Indigenous; homeless people are working class. There is no class, social, or national difference between people who happen to be homeless today and those who may be homeless tomorrow; this division works only to divide and weaken us.
We want the Schoolhouse Squat to be a gathering place for Indigenous people displaced from their lands and dispossessed of their communities, for working class people who have lost their homes, communities, and families to low wages, high rents, overwork, and abuse, and for people in housing crisis. Come join the Schoolhouse Squat in Nanaimo, crack open a squat in your own town — you are needed and welcome. We are the people can end homelessness.
The case that the Schoolhouse Squat is protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a reasonable response to recent BC Supreme Court Decisions
Our path to the Schoolhouse Squat
For 2 years the Supreme Court has leaned in favour of homeless people’s rights against the power of the state to criminalize and displace, implicitly recognizing that the dominant society is causing homelessness and harming homeless people. Those days are over.
On Sept 21st Judge Skolrood granted the displacement injunction to the City of Nanaimo, giving Discontent City 21 Days to disperse. The City of Nanaimo distributed a letter camp residents stating that there would be no immediate action “today or tomorrow” and that the City intended to assist in the successful movement of people out of Tent City into the community. They did not give us contact information such as a phone number, department, email, or any information whatsoever as to how or where to access this promised assistance.
Skolrood’s decision in Nanaimo and the earlier decision in Saanich means that the courts have joined the politically bankrupt politicians and hateful anti-homeless property owners in irrationally calling for the expulsion of homeless people from communities. After the Saanich and Nanaimo decisions are any indication, the Courts are no longer a sanctuary from anti-homeless hysteria.
The Schoolhouse Squat is the next stage of struggle against homeless displacement. The alternative is to admit defeat and watch thousands of our people shrink off into the bushes to die.
Land use not property right
The Schoolhouse Squat is making a radical claim against Canadian property rights. Public property, beginning with the idea of “Crown Land,” is a foundation of the colonial process that preceded Canada, dispossessing Indigenous peoples with the Canadian nation-state. Today, dispossessed Indigenous people make up approximately half of the people stuck living on the streets in Nanaimo as consequence of this colonial dispossession. Correcting this injustice and ending Indigenous homelessness is not part of the government’s so-called reconciliation.
We are saying that the government’s property right is hurting our people, and that using this land and this empty building is a grassroots correction to state-organized project of colonial dispossession.
There are 3 parts to our legal claim to the Schoolhouse Squat:
- The Schoolhouse Squat is on publicly owned property: Judges have found that governments have an obligation to the public good that private landowners do not. Homeless people have stopped government injunction applications by successfully claiming that public property owners have a special responsibility to the public good. We are making claim that displacing us from the Schoolhouse Squat would violate our Section 7 Charter Right to security of the person and protection of personal belongings.
- The Schoolhouse Squat is an empty and unused building: Our use of the Rutherford School as housing is not interrupting or inconveniencing any other use of this public property; we are causing no harm to any other person or community by improving homeless peoples’ access to security of the person and protection of belongings.
- The Schoolhouse Squat has all the benefits of a tent city and none of the dangers: Although the judges in both Saanich and Nanaimo tent city cases recognized that tent cities make homeless people safer and healthier in many ways, the judges ruled that the long-term use of tents in tent cities make them prone to fire hazards. The Schoolhouse Squat’s response to this ruling is to maintain homeless people’s access to the Charter right of security of the person and protection of belongings without the fire risks these judges have found inherent to long-term tent camps.