Residents rally as they look for political help to manage B.C. homeless encampment
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver residents frustrated by escalating crime and health issues in their neighbourhood with ties to a growing tent city in Strathcona Park rallied Tuesday morning as they look for political help.
The protest, which was organized by a group called “Safe Homes For All,” was made up overwhelmingly of nearby residents, despite an open invite to people living in the tent city to take part.
The protesters gathered along Prior Street between Gore Avenue and Glen Drive between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. waving signs and getting support from many passing drivers.
Rally co-organizer Chris May, who lives in the neighbourhood, says the event was meant to bring attention to the need for a solution in Strathcona, including appropriate housing for those calling the park home.
“Homeowners, and renters, and housed members of this community believe and want to fight for the rights of people who are unhoused in our community,” he told CTV News.
But some of those living in the park and advocating for residents in the tent city don’t believe that’s the true intention of people in the neighbourhood.
“What they actually are fighting for is to dismantle this tent city,” said Karina Castro with the Our Homes Can’t Wait Coalition. “They don’t actually care about whether people are displaced back onto the streets.
Angela Peterkin has been living in the park for the past three months.
“What I think they’re fighting for is their community. And they forget this is our community, too," Peterkin told reporters. “We should be out there with them if this is about housing. Nobody has come talk to us about what we need.”
But May says the protest action is not about having the park dismantled, but the bigger issues in the neighbourhood and what he believes is a lack of action from government.
“The camp has kept growing, the support services have not come along with it, and the politicians have continued to ignore it. Members who are staying in this park are not enemies of ours. People who are managing this camp are not enemies of ours. That is not the enemy. The enemy here is the politicians who aren’t doing anything and seem to think it’s just going to fade away,” he told CTV News.
Tuesday’s protest, which had been planned for weeks, came after a major incident Sunday, where police say a man with a chainsaw chased and threatened people in the park.
Someone was arrested and released, and police are still searching for a suspect. Nobody was injured.
Vancouver police say there has been an increase in crime in the neighbourhood since the encampment was started.
Many residents at the rally say the situation in their neighbourhood has been escalating for months now, and it has some fearing for their own safety.
“Terrifying. The crime is horrifying. We have lost our park during a pandemic. Our children have no place to go,” said Strathcona resident Tracey Pincott, who has lived in the neighbourhood since 1984. “It has reached a point where we have to take action.”
Ombu Ance is 16-years-old and has lived in Strathcona her entire life.
“It’s been crazy for me and my friends. We can’t go walking at night. Even in the daytime we just head home because we feel unsafe. I used to go running in this park and now I can’t. I haven’t been able to. I haven’t stepped foot in this park because I feel unsafe,” Ance told CTV News.
“We need to get them safe housing and we need to be safe in our own neighbourhood …we’re all ready to have our park back and we’re ready for these people to get running water and the things that they need.”
The organizers of the rally are calling for help from all levels of government, and on Tuesday the leaders of the BC Liberals and NDP addressed the situation at the tent city while campaigning.
NDP Leader John Horgan says he plans to continue working with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart on the issues at the park, saying efforts to get people into housing need to be “re-doubled.”
“I fully understand the frustration of communities and I ask them for patience as we work our way through this. It’s not just going to take resources. It’s going to take cooperation and compassion,” Horgan said.
The riding is currently held by Melanie Mark, candidate with NDP.
Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said his party would focus on individual needs, noting issues around mental health and appropriate housing.
“These are families who live right in the core of Vancouver, often with small children,” Wilkinson said. “Their school is about to receive a security fence to keep the children safe.”
The rally remained mostly peaceful, though one man appeared to be briefly detained by Vancouver police after making contact with a vehicle in an intersection. One of the encampment’s organizers, Chrissy Brett, was also arrested and carried away by police after blocking traffic on Prior Street. She was wanted on an outstanding warrant from July for obstructing a police officer.
Strathcona residents and the Safe Homes for All group say some local residents plan to withhold property taxes as a form of protest — and they have not ruled out a train blockade as a last resort in the future if nothing gets done.
"The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation will continue to work with the City of Vancouver and all levels of government to find a housing solution for the individuals in the park to ensure the park can be returned to full public use,” the park board said in a statement.
The city said it’s exploring options to accelerate emergency housing.
“Our teams, in partnership with BC Housing, are working to mitigate the impact and risks associated with people camping in Strathcona Park,” wrote a city spokesperson.
A city report into options for the tent city is expected to be released on Oct. 2.
The city is looking at several options: leasing or purchasing housing units like hotels and other available housing stock, establishing a temporary emergency relief encampment on vacant public or private land, or temporarily converting city-owned buildings into emergency housing or shelter space.