There are new safety concerns in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood, following an aggressive confrontation involving a Vancouver city councillor captured on camera.
It happened Friday morning near the intersection of Hawks and Union streets, not far from the Strathcona Park homeless encampment.
Resident Kimberly Allen had just taken her dog outside when she says she saw a man preparing to inject drugs on her neighbour’s doorstep.
She told Global News he became aggressive when she asked him to leave.
“This fellow actually called me many names and then lunged towards me,” she said.
Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry, a friend and neighbour of Allen’s, was returning from walking his dog at the time and stepped in to intervene.
What happens next was recorded by Allen.
The video does not show the start of the interaction. It begins with the man swearing and hurling insults at Fry.
Fry responds by telling him to “get the f— out of here,” and walking towards the man, who backs down the block.
The man hurls more insults at Fry, before telling him, “I’ll f—ing stab you, I’ll f—ing stab you, buddy, so quick.”
The man then walks away down the block, continuing to yell, as Fry slowly follows him.
“My wife’s going to kill me when she sees this video and says, ‘what were you thinking,’ but at the same time I’m not going to stand back and let him assault my friend and neighbour,” Fry told Global News of the exchange.
“I physically put myself in between them and used some salty language to let him know this wasn’t going to pass.”
He said a number of children live in the rowhouses where the altercation took place, many of whom would have been leaving their homes around that hour.
Both Fry and Allen said the incident was just the latest in a string of negative encounters that have escalated since homeless activists established the Strathcona camp in June.
Allen said finding drug users in her building’s doorways was now a daily occurrence.
“It’s challenging to live here right now, and I’m sure more challenging to have kids. It doesn’t feel safe in Strathcona anymore,” she said.
Fry said he wants to see the province step up and establish one of the two ‘Navigation Centres’ it promised in the 2020 budget.
The centres are intended to triage the city’s street homeless in a safe environment where they can be connected with services and housing.
He argued that getting a navigation centre going would help differentiate between the homeless and other criminal elements that have taken up residence in some of the estimated 300 tents in the park.
“It’s not just about homelessness anymore in the encampment, one of the ongoing challenges is ongoing theft,” he said.
“There’s brazen chop shops operating in the encampment that have led to some concerns and conflict. I am concerned that at some point someone is going to get hurt trying to retrieve their property.”
Vancouver police Sgt. Aaron Roed said investigators were aware of the video and looking into it.
But he asserted that the neighbourhood is not, in fact, seeing a surge in violence or theft.
“We aren’t seeing an increase of crime in the neighbourhood of Strathcona. That’s not including Strathcona Park; I’m talking about the community.”
Roed said police had increased their presence in the neighbourhood, and encouraged anyone who was the victim of crime to call 911.
Residents of the encampment have repeatedly stated that they do not want to be living there.
Camp spokespeople have called for more subsidized housing, as well as for a “Canadian refugee camp” with power, water, toilets and services.
Strathcona businesses and the Strathcona Residents Association have also called for a sanctioned, government owned site for the homeless.
Some area residents are also threatening to withhold property taxes if the city doesn’t address the camp.
The city’s park board has passed a new bylaw requiring homeless campers to clear a park by 8 a.m. daily, but has made no indication it intends to enforce it at the encampment.
In the meantime, Allen said she wants to see the city acknowledge the growing problem in the neighbourhood, and a serious effort to address the homeless issue by all three levels of government.
“Something needs to be done. It’s really unfair that those of us who live here feel threatened on a daily basis,” she said.