Government and Organizers Give the Homeless Community Space to Self-Isolate

Members of the Red Braid Alliance advocate for measures to shelter people experiencing homelessness

The North Surrey Recreation Centre which is operating as a shelter for members of the homeless community who are showing symptoms of Covid-19. (surrey.ca)

As the pandemic continues, people who are homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness may struggle to find a safe place to self-isolate. The Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism, an organization focused on advocacy for vulnerable communities around the lower mainland, is trying to help.

Its members are mostly people from the homeless community and working-class individuals. They have active campaigns in Maple Ridge, Coquitlam, Surrey, Burnaby and, recently, Vancouver.

Laura Riach, a squat organizer for Red Braid, says it all started when organizers began distributing pamphlets about the dangers of COVID-19 to people in the community. The pamphlets indicated that Red Braid would support anyone who wanted to enter vacant buildings for shelter.

“We opened up the [North Surrey Recreation Centre] illegally and within four hours the police came [to evict] us,” she says.

She says some individuals had the choice to leave with a worker from the Surrey Urban Mission shelter in order to avoid arrest.

“The next day we found out that [the city was] going to start using the recreation centre,” says Riach. “They opened 110 beds in that rec centre and it’s operated in referral only.”

According to the City of Surrey, the centre provides help to “people living on the streets, in shelters, or for people coming out of acute care who do not have a safe place to self-isolate if they have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.”

Riach says it can still be very difficult to practice social distancing in shelters because some don’t have enough bathrooms, or enough distance between beds.

In Surrey, BC Housing is helping the most vulnerable by partnering with local hotels and motels to provide isolation rooms for people experiencing homelessness. Homeless people who have COVID-19 and patients without a fixed address being discharged from hospitals can apply for housing.

The City of Vancouver also provides 167 single-room occupancy hotels and 143 emergency response centre beds. It is also “setting up a resident network headquarters to help provide community member-delivered COVID-19 updates and information in the Downtown Eastside,” wrote Sally Green, Vancouver’s communication coordinator in an email to The Runner. 

Riach says the organization will change its strategy if it wants to hold more squats in the future.

“We are having meetings with people in the communities … to see what they want to do,” she says.

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