Plan to disperse homeless camp backfires as campers move to park
VANCOUVER -- Dozens of homeless campers have been relocated away from an empty gravel lot owned by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority — but have instead set up camp in the middle of a popular Vancouver park.
Structures have been set up on the tennis courts at Strathcona Park, tents are going up on the grass and piles of bags and other debris have been placed on the running track.
“They need a safe place to be, but why is it that Canada can’t find that place for people?” asked one of the camp organizers, Chrissy Brett.
Vancouver police officers arrived just after 6 a.m. to enforce a court injunction against the encampment, which had already moved twice in recent days.
Police said a gravel lot had been locked and secured before campers arrived, and described their presence as the result of a break-in. Early Monday morning, officers went to the camp and told residents they could face mischief charges if they refused to vacate the area.
Police arrested one person, but said the individual was released shortly after without charges.
Protesters said the efforts to house them — a prominent part of the operation to clear a previous tent city at Oppenheimer Park — were noticeably absent.
“They showed up with numbers, when we are all sleeping,” said a camper who gave his name as Jason.
The camper said he asked police where they wanted him to go, and was told: "We don't care where you go, just go."
Another resident of the camp, Dan Halmer, told CTV News he planned to head to a spot near some warehouses in East Vancouver.
“I’ll sleep there between the dumpsters,” he said. “It’s the safest bet.”
But a well-organized group of volunteers had other ideas, loading a large number of tents and other equipment into several U-Haul trailers, and heading to the track at Strathcona Park.
Soon, a new tent encampment was up at the tennis courts, trees and track at the south side of the park.
The province's minister of poverty reduction said B.C. Housing — which has supplied homes for hundreds of residents at Oppenheimer Park — wasn’t involved in this morning’s action.
“We knew there was going to be a relocation, but we didn’t know where,” said Shane Simpson.
“We’ve been on the site at a daily basis providing outreach, registering people for potential housing moving forward. We’ll continue to do that work."
He said the province was looking to buy more space to house the remaining homeless, and called on the federal government to help.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart offered a similar message.
“The only way to end homelessness is by building housing, not evicting homeless residents without a plan for where they go next,” Stewart said in a statement.
“If Ottawa came to the table, we would be able to drastically increase the amount of housing we’re able to provide."
Park users told CTV News they were worried about the disruption to the park. The Park Board told CTV News it was aware of the encampment. Staff pulled the tennis nets down from the courts as the tents went up.
A previous encampment at Oppenheimer Park lasted more than a year.