Tent city spokesperson accuses city of trying to intimidate protesters in Oppenheimer Park
The spokesperson for a Downtown Eastside tent city says protesters have no intention of removing structures from Oppenheimer Park.
"Our mayor has promised that he would end homelessness and yet, we still have that happening," Brody Williams told the Georgia Straight. "Until homelessness has ended, we're here for the long run."
Williams, who hails from Haida Gwaii, said that about 20 Vancouver police officers, social workers, and "park rangers" showed up at Oppenheimer Park, where about 20 people are living in tents.
He mentioned that the authorities gave the protesters a "silly letter" that wasn't even on City of Vancouver letterhead.
"There's nothing to it," he said. "They're trying to intimidate us."
Well over half of the protesters on-site this morning were of aboriginal descent.
Williams said everyone on-site supports the notion of maintaining "clean and sober camp".
"We asked people from the camp here not to be using, only because we want everything to be done in a good way," Williams said. "We have Native medicine here. Also, it doesn't leave room for stereotyping, right?"
The city issued a statement this morning saying it has given notice to the campers to remove tents and other structures.
"The City has clearly documented and is very concerned about the disproportionate numbers of First Nations peoples who are homeless in the city," the statement declared. "Council has worked on significantly enhancing the City’s relationship with the three host First Nations—the Musqueam, Tseil-Waututh, and the Squamish Nations—whose Councils meet with Vancouver City Council regularly and together discuss critical public policy issues including the issue of housing for First Nations."
The statement claimed that the majority of people at the tent city live in single-room occupancy hotels.
"We can help people pack up and re-locate their belongings if they need help," the city stated.
The city also listed numerous actions it's taken to address homelessness, including working with B.C. Housing to bring on 308 more units in the next few months. In addition, the city is trying to work with the province and Vancouver Coastal Health to keep 100 units at the Bosman Hotel funded over the next two to three years for interim housing.
In the meantime, the city said it's "working closely" with B.C. Housing to try to reopen the Evelyn Saller Centre at 320 Alexander Street for the homeless.
Williams, however, said that the tent-city demonstrators are not interested in staying in a temporary shelter.
"It's unacceptable," he stated. "They're starting to warehouse people when they start to do that."
Williams, who's not homeless himself, said that he organized the camp last week after noting city staff giving notices to people to remove tents from the park.
"So I got on the phone and the Internet and called all my friends," he said with a smile. "This is it. Here we are."
When police showed up this morning, Williams said he told them that protesters have given the city an eviction notice from Oppenheimer Park.
He's aware that there are other demands on park space.
For example, this weekend Union Gospel Mission is planning a barbecue in the park.
The following weekend, the Powell Street Festival takes place in Oppenheimer Park.
Williams insisted that the tent-city protesters have no intention of disrupting either event, noting that they are prepared to move the structures to other areas of the park, if necessary.
"There was a tent city back here in 2008," Williams said. "The coordinators decided they would hire some of the people who were in the camp to do security for the Powell Street Festival as well. So that was really nice of them."