In October/November, 10 men and 2 women made a temporary home out of the Dockside welfare office patio. Word got out to CCAP that the squatters would be removed because the Ministry’s head office wanted the patio barred off.
Muriel, Diane, Phoenix, Lewam, Ann and I checked it out after a CCAP action meeting last week. We found squatters in a dandy spot: it was dry, clean and had under the radar support of office and security workers. With a 24 hour bathroom across the street, meals arranged at the 44, the potential to sleep around the clock under the protective eye of security and some collective rules and solidarity, personal health conditions of the squatters was improving. With the pressure to move out, they found themselves in a good position to negotiate the next steps – getting inside.
“I want to move on from here and go to school. Indian Affairs will help me with that. But I need a place. You don’t have a life when you live in a shelter. I need to cook when I need a meal and I need a shower when I need a shower. I can’t find a place to live. I’m not getting anywhere here,” says Kaleb Zentner, a homeless squatter at the site.
Albert John Ouimette, the lead organizer at the squatter site said: “If the janitors want to wash the floor we leave because we want to make it easy for them. We keep the place tidy. We don’t cause problems here because we need to stay. The workers know who we are. They know we got respect. But I need my own space, my own key, if I’m going to work everyday.”
But unfortunately, what unfolded at Dockside sounds like a broken record. Here’s the pattern similar to Oppenheimer and Glen Ave squats:
o Pressure to close the squat site,
o outreach workers called into relocate squatters,
o outreach workers can’t find rooms for squatters,
o squatters and supporters ramp up pressure,
o media gets involved,
o the Province gets involved and moves everyone at once to a provincially owned hotel, and
o the outdoor sites are barricaded or policed so squatters can’t come back.
- Sarah, Tina, Brian, Bingo, Bingo’s son come out early to support Albert
Nearly all the Dockside squatters were relocated into the Gastown Hotel. Last time I talked to them, I heard various versions of “maybe it’s better outside.” Outside the Welfare office they had to deal with the weather and lack of privacy. Lack of privacy, filth, bugs, mice and a short supply of support greeted them inside.
Once the weather changes, they may end up back outside, if not before. Are we creating a revolving door right back out to the street?
What’s the next step? Well, I heard DERA is helping Gastown Hotel tenants with a petition to BC Housing to improve living conditions there. Maybe CCAP will help draw attention to the problems there too. Stay tuned for more.
Rumors are flying that the province has bought more hotels, but we don’t know for sure. Maybe another broken record? It seems that when we make some noise, we get substandard results. We need permanent 400 square foot homes – not crummy hotel rooms forever. As Muriel from CCAP says, we’re tired of being a country song. Ask her to show you what she means as she does a great “improv.”