Campers at Oppenheimer Park in Downtown Eastside were on edge Sunday, awaiting an eviction by the City of Vancouver.
Campers were given notice Saturday that they must remove all permanent structures from the park by 7 a.m. Sunday.
About 30 people are currently staying overnight in the park in tents and under tarps.
Park residents say they have little choice – it’s either the park or single occupancy rooms infested with mice and bedbugs.
Activists with Carnegie Community Action Project say Vancouver police surrounded the tent city in the park early this morning.
They say officers were accompanied by social workers offering shelter beds to the homeless currently living in the tents.
“We are aware of the tents in the park and the city’s concerns with them being there. We will continue to monitor the situation,” said VPD media relations officer Randy Fincham in a statement.
Fincham says they have not been asked to intervene in this matter at this time, but will continue patrolling the park for safety reasons.
A resident of the park, Lawrence, says he’s been living in the park for nine months while waiting for native housing.
“I don’t want to live in the slums,” he says, gesturing to the nearby hotels on East Hastings Street. “There’s bugs, and mice and rats in there, but they have three brand new buildings, and I’ve been waiting over nine months to get a room.”
Brody Williams of the Haida Nation says campers will stand their ground at Oppenheimer Park.
“We’ve decided that we would send an eviction notice to the city as well,” he says. “This is unceded territory and we are very concerned about the way the city is treating the homeless here.”
City councillor Dr. Kerry Jang tells The Weekend Morning News with Jill Bennett on CKNW that the city has offered housing to campers who need it, but not everyone camping at the park is homeless.
“We’ve gone into the camp to make sure that anyone who is actually homeless will get a shelter space or some other kind of housing, and the other folks who are there — some of them are just little mischief makers.”
Jang says the camp likely started because conditions outdoors are cooler than in the residents’ hotel rooms.
He says outreach workers are on site at the park, to make sure campers who have substandard housing are offered somewhere else to stay.
Jang says the make-up of the camp has changed recently.
“They were using First Nations for being there – but when the protest began, there were no First Nations there.”
The city issued an official statement Sunday afternoon, saying that camping in parks is not allowed and the presence of tents and other structures is impeding other residents’ enjoyment of the space.
We have given notice to people camping in Oppenheimer Park to remove their tents and other structures. Camping is not allowed and neither is creating structures in parks because these create barriers for other residents who want to use and enjoy the park space and can also cause safety concerns.
The City supports the right to gather and carry out peaceful protest however, our Parks are there for the enjoyment of everyone and we are requesting that the structures be removed from Oppenheimer Park.
Rena Kendall-Craden, spokesperson for the City of Vancouver, says they are working with BC Housing and the Evelyn Saller Centre on Alexander St., to provide temporary shelter for the campers.
She adds the recently-approved Downtown Eastside local area plan will result in improvements to existing SROs.
We also know that amongst the group at Oppenheimer the majority of individuals are housed but have issues with the SRO’s they are living in. These issues are real and the Downtown Eastside Plan recently approved by Council has a major focus on refurbishing or replacing the SROs as well as keeping the units affordable to our low income residents. This will take time but the City is working hard with other partners on this issue.
‘Eviction notice’ issued by representatives of the Haida Nation and Musqueam Nation to the City of Vancouver:
Issued on this 20th day of July, 2014 and effective immediately.
We, the indigenous people here today in Oppenheimer Park, do hereby assert our Aboriginal Title, as established in law by the Supreme Court of Canada in Tsilhqot’in v British Columbia. Our people have held title to this land since time immemorial, and we are exerting our right to exclusive authority, recognized as an inherent element of our title, over this land and this camp.
The City of Vancouver recognizes the unceded and enduring existence of our Aboriginal Title here. Under this recognition, we now require that you leave this place and cease any attempts to remove people or their belongings from this place. Because we are the title holders to this land, we assert that you do not have jurisdiction over this place until such time as our title to it is lawfully resolved. Any actions against this camp are thereby unlawful actions against our title; we demand an immediate cease and desist of action or the threat of action against this camp or those within it.
Audrey Siegl (Musqueam Nation)
Brody Williams (Haida Nation)
Williams says he’s given the city the names of 30 campers who need placement in social housing. But he says it appears the city is having trouble finding enough rooms for the campers.