Evicted during COVID-19: Modular housing tenant barricades herself in her room to avoid homelessness

Update: On May 18, Kristina received a notice from Lookout Health and Housing Society, stating that her eviction has been rescinded. The notice gives no explanation for the decision to cancel her eviction, but Kristina thinks it’s a response to her resistance: she barricaded herself in her room and refused to comply with the eviction notice, spoke to the media, and was part of a rally outside her building. “Lookout realised I wouldn’t go without a fight,” she says.

But for Kristina, “It doesn’t feel like much of a win when my friends are still sleeping outside.” She is calling for Lookout to rehouse the tenants who were evicted during the COVID-19 crisis. In the meantime, she is asking for donations of tents and sleeping bags, which her former neighbours need to survive outdoors. Please email Red Braid at organize@stopdisplacement.ca to arrange donations.

“I’m currently barricaded in my room hoping for a miracle,” Kristina Freberg wrote in an email to The Volcano on May 4. She’s still there, afraid that if she leaves her room, her landlord will board it up and she will be out on the streets. Kristina has seen this happen to three other tenants in her building, who, like her, were served eviction notices during the COVID-19 pandemic. “They put plywood boards over their doors,” she says. “Their belongings are still in there. They literally got five minutes to pack up and get out.”

On March 25, BC Premier John Horgan announced a ban on evictions during the coronavirus crisis, with the exception of “extreme cases where there are safety concerns.” Kristina was served an eviction at the beginning of April. “It says on my eviction notice that I’ve had two fires and that I’ve sublet my unit repeatedly,” she explains. “Both are not true, not at all. I don’t know if they’ve crossed files or what, but that information is completely inaccurate.” Kristina says that her landlord, Lookout Housing and Health Society, is “using health and safety as a loophole” to evict her and other tenants onto the streets during the pandemic. 

The real agenda of the non-profit housing provider, she says, is to clear out the temporary modular housing before September, so that a developer can reclaim the property. Without enough new housing to move tenants into, Lookout is searching for reasons to evict residents to the streets.

“Supportive” housing providers use COVID-19 to further restrict tenants’ rights

Kristina lives at Nickerson Place, a temporary modular housing development in Surrey. She moved there from the Surrey Strip in June 2018, when the City of Surrey cleared nearly 100 tents off 135A Street. “I expected it was going to be supportive housing, in the sense that they would support us,” she says. “We didn’t get that at all. We got four walls and room inspections, our guests policed, and that was it.”

Lookout Housing and Health Society has used the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to intensify guest restrictions in the supportive housing they manage. Against policy recommendations issued by the provincial health authority, Lookout has prohibited all guest access during the pandemic. “I think it’s silly,” says Kristina. “Telling us that we can’t gauge our interactions with our own people, with our own community. They treat us like children. I feel like a grounded 10 year old, cut off from all my friends.” 

“I started harassing staff about restricting our guests,” says Kristina. “Then I got an eviction notice on my door.” The eviction notice describes Kristina as “combative with staff.” She says that she is being evicted for “giving them a hard time” and speaking up about restrictive, punitive, and dangerous guest policies. “They want us to be good little kids and behave. They want us to be seen and not heard,” she says. “But I have a bit of a mouth on me. I don’t just stay quiet.” 

When Kristina received her eviction notice she went online to file a dispute. “But everything was shut down for COVID,” she describes. “I was even questioning if they actually gave me a legal eviction notice. I’m still not sure that they did. There were no eviction notices being handed out, so I thought there’s no point in wasting time if they can’t evict me anyways.”

“COVID doesn’t apply here”: Policing the poor is business as usual

Lookout Society called the police to force Kristina out of her home on May 1, but she was prepared. “I was served an eviction notice last year and I took it to arbitration and won. I learned from last time,” she says. “Last time, they did the same thing. On the last day of my eviction, they called the cops. They caught me off guard, so when they banged on my door and said, ‘police,’ I opened up my door with my paperwork to tell them I didn’t have to go anywhere because I filed an arbitration claim. But I opened up the door to a cop that I’d had an incident with before. So, it was basically, ‘Get your things and get out.’ Because of that I knew to not open this door this time.”

When the police arrived on May 1, Kristina kept her door shut. “The officer stood on the other side of the door, trying to argue with me,” she describes. “I actually have him recorded, saying, ‘COVID doesn’t apply here.’ Not sure why COVID doesn’t apply. They try to say the Residential Tenancy Act doesn’t apply here, but it does. COVID definitely applies here.”

She argued with the police for hours through her door before they finally gave up and left. Kristina was not surprised that Lookout Society called the police to enforce her eviction. In her experience, they work in close collaboration. “I’ve seen staff open up people’s doors for the cops,” she says. “The other way they get into your room when they want to, if you don’t answer your door, is through ‘wellness checks.’ So, that’s why I’m barricaded.”

“Supportive” housing maintains homelessness

According to Kristina, she and her three neighbours who were recently evicted are early casualties in a coming wave of displacement. Nickerson Place was always meant as a temporary fix: ATCO trailers, hastily repurposed and painted hospital-green, surrounded by chain-link fencing. 

The site is set to shut down at the end of August, but the permanent modular housing that tenants were promised has not yet been finished. In an obscure comment published in the Surrey Now-Leader, City Councillor Brenda Locke expresses the uncertainty that Nickerson tenants face. “It’s not like they’ll all go definitely to [permanent housing], they might start to reassess the people in the other [modular] units… They might shift some of the Nickerson people depending,” says Locke.

Kristina says that Lookout Society is already starting to “shift people around.” While Lookout is trying to evict her onto the streets, some of her neighbours are being moved to other temporary modular housing projects or to Ted Kuhn Towers, a permanent supportive housing project in Surrey. Kristina asked a staff person at Nickerson Place, “Where are the people from Ted Kuhns going, if people from here are going there?” The worker replied, “Well, they’re being evicted.” Kristina asked a staff person at Nickerson Place, “Where are the people from Ted Kuhns going, if people from here are going there?” The worker replied, “Well, they’re being evicted.”

What Kristina describes sounds like a game of musical chairs. The “winners” get housing that is, in Kristina’s words “like a juvenile reformatory,” and everyone else is thrown out onto the streets. From behind her barricade, Kristina is calling for accountability from Lookout Society, as well as BC Housing, which she says “always seems to manage to hide behind the Lookout curtain.” 

Kristina says accountability would mean that Lookout Society would stop evicting tenants during the global pandemic and to “let all the people they kicked out back in.” She says, “They should take the boards off the doors and let them come home until COVID’s done.” Kristina argues that Lookout Society and BC Housing have a responsibility to “find all of us housed at Nickerson Place and the other two modulars the permanent housing we were promised when we moved in here. They should be held accountable to their word.”

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