East Vancouver resident questions quick action to clear homeless from west side park

Click to play video: 'Swift action promised on future Vancouver encampments'
Swift action promised on future Vancouver encampments
East Vancouver residents are wondering why several tents in a park on the city's west side were cleared out so quickly, when parks in their neighbourhoods were left to languish for months when encampments moved in. The city was first made aware of the encampment at Vanier Park in October, but once the order was issued to clear it, it was removed within a matter of days. But as Kristen Robinson reports, the Park Board says it's not a matter of a city divide, but of who is in charge now – Mar 22, 2023

East Vancouver residents are wondering why tents in a park on the city’s west side were targeted so quickly, when parks in their neighbourhoods have been left to languish for months when homeless encampments moved in.

On March 21, six days after Vancouver resident Elvira Lount shared concerns on social media about a couple of tents in Vanier Park, the Vancouver Park Board began taking action to clear the small camp.

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“It didn’t surprise me,” East Vancouver resident Elana Zysblat told Global News.

Zysblat and other east side residents endured a tent city in Strathcona Park for 10 months between June 2020 and April 2021, while an earlier entrenched encampment at Oppenheimer Park lasted 18 months before the province finally moved in to clear the tents and offer people housing options.

More recently, the western edge of CRAB Park’s waterfront has been home to dozens of tents for almost two years.

“We feel a difference in treatment between the west side and the east side,” Zysblat told Global News in an interview Wednesday.

“It feels like as an east side resident, we need to advocate, we need to be on top of what our basic rights are.”

Click to play video: 'Encampment found in Vancouver’s Vanier Park'
Encampment found in Vancouver’s Vanier Park

ABC Vancouver Park Board chair Scott Jensen said he doesn’t see “an east west divide.”

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The park board said it first became aware of up to three people living in Vanier Park last October, and advised them tents must be taken down by 8 a.m. after overnight sheltering.

In the months since, park rangers have offered housing or outreach multiple times.

When propane tanks were recently noticed, the people living in the tents were asked to remove their belongings so the site could be cleared due to safety concerns.

Jensen said previous encampments in East Vancouver were allowed to expand because of the last city council’s inaction.

“Oppenheimer, Strathcona, CRAB Park — those all predate our term and so we’re going to be working towards ensuring that those situations do not occur anywhere else within our city,” Jensen said in an interview.

As new permanent encampments pop up, park bylaws will be enforced Jensen said, with the exception of CRAB Park.

The arbitrary removal of all structures from that encampment is prohibited following a January 2022 BC Supreme Court decision that ruled people cannot be evicted if suitable housing alternatives are not available.

Click to play video: 'Metro Vancouver homeless count returns after three years'
Metro Vancouver homeless count returns after three years

B.C.’s Ministry of Housing said the decision to remove tents from Vanier Park was made by the Vancouver Park Board, and the province is not responsible for bylaw decisions made by the City of Vancouver or its park board.

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“Encampments are not a safe or suitable form of housing or shelter,” read a statement from the ministry, which said outreach workers are actively connecting with people sheltering outdoors to ensure they’re connected to safety and health supports and aware of available shelter space.

Zysblat said she believes B.C. has the capacity to solve poverty, addiction and mental illness – but wonders if there’s political will.

“There must be money to be made by keeping the status quo because it’s just inexcusable, irresponsible and downright embarrassing,” she said. “It’s also heartbreaking.”

Meantime, Zysblat is not alone in noticing the difference between East Vancouver parks like Strathcona – where on Wednesday garbage bins were overflowing and the tennis courts remained closed for repairs – and picture-perfect Kits Beach where the courts were packed with people playing tennis.

“East side parks are very heavily used and we have a higher population relative to the amount of parks that we have relative to the west side,” said Green Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry.

“So 100 per cent, east side parks could use a lot more attention.”

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