The Struggle Together Brings Us Together – Lessons from a partial victory against mass eviction at SFU


Teresa Dettling showing her apartment to the media during a news conference in March
Teresa Dettling showing her apartment to the media during a news conference in March

The funny thing about eviction notices is that they are not just notices telling you that you have to move, they are messages that you are not good enough, that you do not have a right to exist. If you are a poor person you get this message from society in hundreds of different ways throughout your life. And it is a battle not to let these messages wear you down and make you ashamed to be who you are. But the thing about being poor is that you are never really alone, because we are blessed with the shared experiences of poverty and the pains and joys that come with it. Wherever there are groups of poor people one will always find very vibrant and unique communities.

My daughter and I found such a community when we moved into what is the most run down student residence on the SFU campus a little over two years ago. Until I moved into Louis Riel House I had often felt very alone trying to raise my daughter and watch out for my deceased sister’s kids and go to university. But as my daughter and I settled into our very run down but affordable apartment we got to know our neighbours and I began to feel like I was not alone anymore. Over time my neighbours began to feel more like family than friends. And I felt like I had found an oasis in the city, I felt secure in my home and in my community and my place in society. My daughter attended a great school on campus, and when I walked her to school everyday I would often think how lucky we were. When my family members visited we revelled in the fact that we could go out as a family comprised of non-Indigenous and Indigenous children and not be glared at and treated badly. I forgot we were poor and I forgot that when you are poor at any moment you can lose everything you value.

On the evening of Saturday March 10th when, with callous indifference, employees at SFU went door to door to deliver eviction notices to everyone who lives in my building, I was reminded that we are poor. The messages the SFU staff were sending was clear: get out and go quietly because this is a good campus with good, clean people and trash like us is not to mess up their picture perfect campus. I would have gone quietly except for one thing, my daughter started to cry and the moment she cried my course was set. So I hugged her and promised that we would fight and we would win. I was not alone in my promise because throughout my building that day the parents of all the children in our community made similar promises to their children.

So the moms in our building formed a community group and we reached out to everyone we could think of and asked them to help. We found allies in many places but our strongest allies came from the SFU Women’s Centre, a coalition of professors (many of whom are women) and the Social Housing Alliance. Everyone in our community came together and contributed in different ways, each way equally important. It was beautifully imperfect. We debated and disagreed. We all had low moments when we cried and we felt like giving up. But we also leaned on one another for support, we laughed together, we ate together. Through all of this our children played together. I will never forget walking back to my apartment with my daughter and she said, “Mom I wish the kids in our building were my brothers and sisters.” I told her that they are because our community is our family too.

We organized a news conference and demonstration and gathered support from faculty and through our struggle we got SFU to grant us a month of free rent, pay our moving costs and grant us additional funding each semester to offset the higher rents we would all have to pay. It is a victory because we are not homeless and we can continue with our education. But we do have to move so our next fight is to stay together as a community despite the fact that we are no longer in the same building.

Fighting the mass eviction by SFU changed all of our lives in ways that are hard to explain. Now I feel connected to the larger network of poor communities that are dispersed through the Lower Mainland. The elites who hold power want to divide poor people and for many years I felt alone in fighting to keep my family together and thriving. But I will never feel that way again because I have learned that when we all stand together and fight back, whatever the outcome good or bad, we will always win because it is the act of fighting back that keeps us strong and binds us together. I know this because I stood up with the members of my community and fought the mass eviction of the tenants of Louis Riel House on the SFU campus.

The struggle for housing justice at SFU continues…

After leading a partly successful struggle to rehouse all residents displaced by the closing of Louis Riel House, these student residents, their families, and the Social Housing Alliance are initiating a campus social housing trust to stop the government and universities from offloading the responsibility for housing students to an already overloaded rental housing market in Burnaby and Vancouver. University students refuse to be part of the displacement of low-income people and families!

To get involved in this effort contact

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