July 5, 2019 3:11 pm
Updated: July 5, 2019 8:02 pm

Vancouver’s Powell Street Festival moves to avoid displacing homeless camp

Vancouver's Powell Street Festival, which celebrates Japanese culture, will not take place in Oppenheimer Park this year.

Credit: Lucas Lau / Powell Street Festival

Vancouver’s annual festival celebrating Japanese culture is moving from its traditional home in Oppenheimer Park due to a large number of homeless campers currently occupying the space.

Festival organizers say they made the decision not because they had to, but out of respect for people with nowhere else to go.

“We’re historically displaced people and we don’t want to take part in displacing vulnerable people,” Powell Street Festival executive director Emiko Morita said.

Powell Street Festival

The Powell Street Festival, which takes place on Aug. 3 and Aug. 4, is now in its 43rd year.

The event is located in the historic heart of the city’s Japanese community, once known as Paueru Gai. Oppenheimer Park once served as the home field of the city’s fabled championship baseball team, the Vancouver Asahi.

The area’s demographics changed significantly following the forced internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

WATCH: Legendary Asahi baseball team honoured with Canada Post stamp

In recent years, the park has become a popular destination for the homeless; a large homeless camp formed in 2014, and the number of tents has grown again in 2018 and 2019, with some 87 counted on Thursday night.

READ MORE: COPE calls for warming station, storage for Oppenheimer Park homeless campers

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“There is a growing number of people living in Oppenheimer Park, and as the weather gets warmer, the tents are increasing. We don’t want to displace the people living there,” Morita said.

“The homelessness issue is provincewide, but I think in Oppenheimer Park, we’re really seeing how many people are in need of safe, stable housing.”

In a statement, the City of Vancouver said it is working to keep those in the park safe and is working alongside Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services to enforce a fire chief’s order that has been in place in the park for a few months.

“The order is applicable to all individuals in the park and sets out a number of specific fire and life safety requirements. However, we are growing increasingly worried as we continue to see non-compliance with the Fire Chief’s order,” the City said.

“We understand many important community festivals and gatherings are planned throughout the summer in Oppenheimer Park, and the City and Park Board staff will continue to work closely with event organizers to accommodate as many events as possible.”

READ MORE: Vancouver homeless numbers rise to highest levels since 2002, latest count shows


WATCH (Oct. 17, 2014): Oppenheimer Park eviction — Where are the campers now?

Morita said the festival will take place on neighbouring streets, and the public is invited to take in the free festival, which includes music, art, martial arts displays and Japanese food.

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