B.C. tent city campers break into empty elementary for ‘Schoolhouse Squat’

Homeless camp residents and supporters in Nanaimo announce they’ve ‘claimed’ school

A group of tent city residents and supporters have seized an empty school in Nanaimo.

A press release from Alliance Against Displacement on Friday evening advised that homeless people and supporters from tent city have moved into the recently closed Rutherford Elementary School to begin what they’re calling the ‘Schoolhouse Squat.’

“We have claimed this building as a safe spot for homeless people,” said Amber McGrath, Discontent City supporter, outside the school Friday evening. “For five months, Discontent City has been home for the homeless [to] 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.”

The civil disobedience begins the same day that the provincial government announced plans to open temporary housing for people experiencing homelessness at two sites in Nanaimo at Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road.

McGrath said the announcement is awesome.

“And if people at Discontent City want that housing, then it’s up to them. They should be part of that discussion if they want that kind of housing. They weren’t [consulted] if they wanted that kind of housing. They were sort of given supportive housing; 24-hour supportinve housing doesn’t leave you any tenants’ rights.”

Nanaimo RCMP are on scene at Rutherford elementary.

“We’re assessing the damage to the school, we’re having some dialogue with the individuals to determine what their intentions are, and we’ll be in consultation with the school district because they are the holders of the land,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman.

He said the situation is different than some other break-ins due to the number of people in the school, thought to be upwards of a dozen, and O’Brien said there’s an “officer safety component” to consider.

The press release notes that the the Schoolhouse Squat offers “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.”

The Alliance Against Displacement is asking anyone to join the squat or start up others, saying the protest will serve as an appeal to the government for help.

“We’re basically encouraging everybody across the province and across the country, there’s empty schools everywhere,” McGrath said. “Take those schools. Homeless people shouldn’t be out in the cold.”

Sophie Wendling, another Discontent City supporter, joined the press conference via speakerphone from inside Rutherford school. She said those inside intend to stay as long as they can.

“We want to open up this space so that other people can come and be where it’s warm and dry in an unused space,” she said.

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools could not be reached for comment.

RELATED: Supreme Court grants injunction against Nanaimo’s Discontent City

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