Homeless camp at Vancouver's Strathcona Park prompts new call for sanctioned tent city

Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood call for action on growing homeless crisis

Residents and businesses in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood are calling on government to create a permanent, sanctioned site for homeless campers.

The call comes as a new homeless camp in East Vancouver’s Strathcona Park continues to expand, with just a few days before sports teams are expected to return to the green space.

As of Friday, there were about 50 tents at the site, which is adjacent to well-used soccer, baseball and tennis facilities.

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“We know that housing is the ultimate solution and that is not something that comes together overnight, but we are growing frustrated with different levels of government passing the buck,” said Strathcona Business Improvement Association executive director Theodora Lamb.

The Strathcona BIA, Strathcona Residents Association, businesses on Produce Row and other community groups have now written to city and provincial leaders calling for a permanent site for homeless campers.

The newest homeless camp sprang up after Vancouver police enforced an injunction against another camp on Port of Vancouver land next to CRAB Park. That camp was established after the province shut down the two-year-old Oppenheimer Park homeless camp.

Before that, homeless people had been living in a series of tent cities on Powell Street, Main Street, East Hastings, and before that, Oppenheimer Park once again.

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Lamb said residents and businesses recognize homelessness as a complex problem, and that displacing homeless camps one after another does nothing to help anyone.

“Strathcona is perfectly aware that the solutions are still likely going to be in our community we’re here to help, we’re here for the long term, but this is not a long term solution,” she said.

“What there isn’t a lot of space or tolerance for is the criminal or violent activity that any displaced camp attracts.”

There was at least one overdose death associated with the CRAB Park camp, while police recorded a homicide, brutal sexual assault and multiple weapons seizures from the Oppenheimer Park camp.

Michelle Plant, who moved into the park with her partner after living on the streets in the Downtown Eastside said the camp offers a measure of safety and dignity.

“There’s people that watch your back, that watch your tent when you’re gone. There’s food. Just the community feeling that we haven’t had in a few years.”

She said housing is the long-term solution, but wouldn’t be opposed to a city-sanctioned camp as a middle-step.

“Some people have been living in tents for a long time, and to transition from a tent to say, an apartment building or or a hotel is quite a transition,” she said. “It’s a bit too much.”

It’s not the first call for a city-sanctioned permanent encampment.

Last winter, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association also called for a permanent site, modelled on San Diego’s response to the homelessness crisis.

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Lamb said it is now time for government to step in and ensure the Stathcona camp doesn’t simply get moved to another public park.

“We waited years for Oppenheimer, and what did we learn?” she asked.

“There needs to be a moment where we all step back and ask what did we learn from this?”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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