After squatting at an unused elementary school in Nanaimo led to 26 arrests, there are no immediate plans for similar squatting.
Alliance Against Displacement held a press conference outside Nanaimo RCMP detachment today, Oct. 7, where members of the group addressed complaints about damage to Rutherford Elementary School and explained their actions there.
The Schoolhouse Squat involved a break-in at the school Friday and resulted in high-profile rooftop arrests Saturday for break-and-enter and mischief.
“For the first time, because of Discontent City, homeless people are visible, are strong, have a political voice and are pressing for change,” said Isabel Krupp of Alliance Against Displacement. “They’re no longer cowering at the foot of social workers and police, but they’re strong; they’re fighting back.”
Asked if the alliance would be trying to identify another location for squatting, Krupp replied that the group was going to “move forward” and wasn’t going to give up fighting.
“We have a lot to learn from this action and we’re going to learn those lessons,” she said.
Asked the same question, Laura Riach of Alliance Against Displacement said, “not at this time,” but added that historically, change has come from people taking what they need. She said everyone has a charter right to security.
“Our legal claim is that by going inside and taking abandoned buildings, that we are actually alleviating the public safety harms and … we’re actually making a safer place for homeless people,” she said.
“Our goal was never to stay in tent cities forever. We need to get housing that is outside of the market system. We need to combust the market system completely.”
According to Alliance Against Displacement, of the 26 squatters, seven to nine were homeless residents of Discontent City and another three or four were local supporters and organizers.
Krupp said a bus was slated to bring more tent city residents to Rutherford school, but by that time, Nanaimo RCMP had set up a police line.
Cori Mitchell, a Discontent City resident who was arrested for break-and-enter at the school, said homeless people weren’t coerced to squat there. Riach said the Alliance Against Displacement doesn’t have the power to coerce people to squat.
“We don’t even have that much to offer people,” she said. “What we can offer them is political strength and support.”
Krupp said the alliance has heard calls to “go back to Maple Ridge” but said homelessness is a Canada-wide problem.
“The RCMP is united, corporations are united, the government’s united. We have to be united and fight back, because we’re not strong enough when we’re on our own…” she said.
“The reality of homeless power that’s been building the past five months, that’s what matters and we know that’s what matters because that’s how change gets made. The homeless services here in Nanaimo are drastically better than they were five months ago before Discontent City.”
Riach said Alliance Against Displacement came to Nanaimo from the mainland to support people asking for help and guidance.
“And we did that and we learned together and all of us are equals in the struggle together,” she said.
Mitchell said there were pros and cons to the Schoolhouse Squat.
“I think we got attention, but it’s probably not going to do anything because people obviously don’t care,” she said. “They think that [people experiencing homelessness] are all thieves and druggies and whatever and there’s more to it than that.”
She said she thinks homeless people should have a right to occupy empty public buildings.
Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said in instances of squatting, police will place a greater priority on their response if there is a complaint made by the property owner.
“That’s one of the factors, for sure,” he said. “But if they express their desire not to have them removed, then we’re not going to get too excited about it, either.”