A fire that broke out in an underground homeless camp and brought SkyTrain service to a halt Friday afternoon has shone a light on the issues facing Vancouver’s homeless population.
The camp, which is set up underneath West Cordova Street on West Waterfront Road and is home to roughly 15 to 20 people, caught fire Friday afternoon and sent black smoke into the sky and through the nearby SkyTrain tunnel heading out of Waterfront Station.
Fire crews — who initially thought the fire had started in a dumpster in an underground parking garage — were able to put the fire out quickly, but say the camp itself is cause for concern and poses a safety hazard for those living there.
“There’s limited access in and out of [these camps], and they’re quite cluttered,” Vancouver asst. fire chief Dale Parno said.
It’s not known what caused the fire, but at least one resident of the camp who didn’t want to give his full name said he and others living there try their best to stay safe.
WATCH: Coverage of B.C.’s homeless crisis on Globalnews.ca
“We had small propane burners but that was usually out in the open, not in the tents,” Jay said.
In a statement to Global News, the City of Vancouver says members of the homelessness outreach team along with Vancouver police and fire officials visited the camp a few days before the fire. They didn’t find any immediate danger but they did have safety concerns, giving residents a few days to pack up and leave.
But with the weather getting colder and more and more people setting up in city parks, there are concerns for the safety of those who don’t have a roof — or a street — over their heads. Fire officials are also concerned there could be more incidents like this as more homeless camps take shelter underground.
Bottle depots, who regularly provide a small income in exchange for empties, have taken to offering hot meals and warm clothing to their regular clients in need, but with the city already seeing sub-zero temperatures this season it may not be enough.
“I don’t know where I’m going to go,” Jay said.
Another man forced to sleep outside, Roy Archie, had an even grimmer outlook.
“I think people will die this year out here, I really do,” he said. “And it hurts my heart. I might be one of them, I don’t know.”