VANCOUVER -- Homeless advocates held a neighbourhood block party at an encampment at Strathcona Park Saturday, hoping to help local residents understand why they are there and ease fears around the new tent city.

“I think any time there’s new people in a neighbourhood, people have concerns about how it might effect them,” said Chrissy Brett, one of the camp’s co-founders. “I think when we look at shared land use you need to be able to engage and have a conversation about how people can co-exist together.”

Strathcona is a busy park with multiple children’s play areas, a skate park, sports fields and courts, a community garden and an off-leash dog area.

After being evicted from an empty lot operated by the Port of Vancouver in the middle of June, the campers have taken over the tennis courts, running track and parts of a soccer field.

Many have nowhere else to go, but others are camping in the park to show solidarity, hoping to force province and the feds to build more housing.

“People have always said that there’s not one size that fits all and we need to create capacity and how to support people where they’re at,” said Brett.

City councillor Pete Fry lives in the neighbourhood and says the community is anxious about the new encampment in such a busy park that is frequently used by families.

“Given what had previously transpired in Oppenheimer Park and the levels of violence and criminality and stuff, people are rightly concerned about what that might look like in a park like Strathcona Park,” he said.

Organizers of the camp say they have a plan to keep the criminal element from getting to the point that it did at Oppenheimer, where there were multiple shootings, stabbings and incidents of sexual violence.

“There’s a no-violence policy that you need to agree to, and beefs and collections stay on the block, your behaviour here can’t affect your neighbours,” said Brett, who also claimed drug prohibition and lack of safe supply contribute to criminal activity in homeless populations.

The camp falls under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Park Board, which chose not to seek an injunction to clear Oppenheimer Park, opting to hire a third-party consultant to assess the situation based on principles of reconciliation.

That work was ongoing when provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth ordered the park cleared because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given that it took two years and a global pandemic before the province and city got together to find housing for campers at Oppenheimer, there’s no telling how long people will be living at Strathcona before local residents can use all of the amenities in the park again.