'Bring 'em, and they're going to need a lot of them': Some homeless camp residents vow to stay as city serves notice
Police and park rangers attended a Vancouver park Monday morning as campers were served a notice to remove their tents from the growing encampment.
The City of Vancouver said dozens of people who call Oppenheimer Park home will have until 6 p.m. Wednesday to remove all tents and structures from the property.
Park rangers moved into the encampment between East Cordova and Powell streets shortly before 9 a.m., going tent by tent as Vancouver police monitored the site.
The mood was at times tense, with some campers yelling as park rangers worked their way through the park.
"You ask me where I'm going to go – I'm going to have to go camp somewhere else now just so you know," one woman yelled as she was handed a notice.
Another woman confronted City Of Vancouver's director of strategic initiatives, Tobin Postma, as he walked through the park.
"Run away, you coward," she yelled, as she blocked his path. "Just stop and have a conversation."
Concerns about housing options
It's believed the population living in the Downtown Eastside park has doubled since the start of the summer. Some figures suggest more than 100 now call it home, but many campers believe that number has surpassed 200.
A statement from the city Monday said BC Housing was able to find more than 100 units of safe and stable accommodation for those who'd been living in the park and had been in contact with Vancouver's Homeless Outreach team.
All of the housing options are in publicly owned buildings run by non-profits, the city said. Included in the 100 units are recently renovated single-room occupancy (SRO) options and shelter spaces.
But some residents of the encampment say they feel safer living in the park, and are concerned about the housing being offered.
"For me to leave my nice clean tent that's nice and clean all the way around, and everything, to go to one of those places… for my health (it's) no good," said Oppenheimer resident Carl Porten, who has lived in the camp for about a year.
Many campers who spoke to CTV News say they have no plans to move out of the park by the deadline.
Sandy Parisien, who identified himself as the" mayor" of the encampment, said he would have to be moved by force.
"If you expect me to move my tent from that spot on the day that's given, good luck," he said. "Bring 'em. And they're going to need a lot of them."
Health and safety concerns
"The General Manager's order was issued in response to ongoing concerns about the serious health and life safety risks present in the park, and in light of housing options being secured for those living there," the city said in a statement issued as park rangers spoke to residents.
The city, park board and local firefighters have been working in the park for months to support those living at the camp, and in February, the fire chief issued an order meant to reduce risk of fire.
Compliance has been limited, the city said, and there have been 17 fires in the park in the last six months.
Police say there have been 21 violent incidents in and around the park in the past week alone.
"We have seen an increase in incidents in that park," Const. Steve Addison with the Vancouver Police Department told reporters Monday morning when asked about the unfolding situation.
Over the next two days, members of the city's outreach team will be on site daily, and will help residents gain access to shelter, income and support services. There will also be a team on-hand to help residents pack their belongings, if requested.
The park board is offering storage options for anything residents can't move into their new housing right away. Several moving trucks pulled up to the encampment around 10 a.m. Monday.
Last week, local businesses said they were worried about the homeless camp. In a survey, 83 per cent of respondents said they want the area returned to a green space.
The survey of more than 850 businesses was conducted for the Strathcona Business Improvement Association.
Staff at a nearby homeless shelter said the issues the camp underscores are a matter of life and death. The Union Gospel Mission's Jeremy Hunka said there's a stigma toward the city's most vulnerable, and fears end up being projected on those at risk, rather than the real crisis, which he says is a shortage of housing.
He said business owners and advocates alike are fighting for the same cause.
What happens next?
Late Monday morning the park remained surrounded by police, with firefighters, park rangers, and housing workers continuing to walk through the encampment, speaking with those living there.
The city has not said if it plans to remove people by force if they refuse to leave the park.
"Our focus really is on assisting those who are interested in housing to move over the coming days," said deputy city manager Paul Mochrie. "At this point, I really can't speculate on what additional actions might follow as of Wednesday if there are people who choose not to comply."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Jim Fong in the Downtown Eastside