From household items to toxic waste, debris from the more than eight-month long encampment in Strathcona Park continues to spill over into the community, prompting the city of Vancouver to ramp up removal efforts.
“It’s been literally a garbage dump in many places in the park,” Strathcona resident Jamie Maclaren told Global News.
The park near the Downtown Eastside has long been a dumping ground according to Maclaren, who said things have only gotten worse. More than a month before tents went up in mid-June 2020, Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry discovered a truckload of trash strewn on the edge of the park, which appeared to be purposely and illegally dumped by someone looking to save on landfill fees.
After the tent city was established, Maclaren said, the sanitation situation escalated through the summer and fall as residents reported huge increases in garbage to the city. “Weeks would go by without any pickup and more garbage would accumulate,” said Maclaren.
“Sometimes we were told it was a hazard, it’s hazardous materials and it needs to stay in place for a while, which never made any sense to us.” The City of Vancouver said that from January to September of last year, crews picked up approximately 14,000 kilograms of garbage from Strathcona Park, with collection increasing during the summer months.
Maclaren said the problem continued to pile up before neighbours noticed a difference in the volume of debris. A whopping 108,000 kilograms — or 108 tonnes of garbage — was removed from the park between last October and February to date, with the healthy five-month haul attributed to collection now occurring seven days a week.
The city’s 108 tonne tally does not include a stolen one-tonne U-Haul truck that police towed out of the park on Feb. 11. “It’s hugely frustrating, you feel abandoned as a community,” Maclaren said. “You wonder if this would happen on the west side of the city.”
Tired of getting dumped on, Maclaren said he and up to 600 other Strathcona residents withheld a portion of their 2020 property taxes from the city, citing inaction on finding safe and appropriate housing for those sheltering in the park and inadequate services.
“We’re not paying the taxes that go in to funding those services,” Maclaren told Global News. “They need to hold up their end of the bargain before I hold up my end of the bargain when it comes to taxes.” The city said sanitation staff have increased their attendance to the park and garbage is collected daily from the perimeter. Civic crews are also supporting Vancouver Park Board staff to clean inside the west side of the park and provide sanitation services to the warming tent and washroom trailer. Maclaren has noticed that the city recently upped its garbage game but said it should have happened back in June.
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“The fact it has taken this long to really address it in the way they should is incredibly disappointing.”