United Nations and B.C. Indigenous leaders have harsh words for Vancouver's treatment of Oppenheimer campers

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      B.C. Indigenous leaders have issued a joint statement with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing that condemns the City of Vancouver and the parks board for this week’s evictions of homeless campers who have spent the last year sleeping in Oppenheimer Park.

      “The City and Park Board’s actions are not only ineffective in addressing and reducing homelessness, but also replicate settler colonial practices that effect Indigenous people who face eviction from lands that are unceded,” an August 23 statement reads.

      “A disproportionately high number of the vulnerable park residents facing the loss of a safe and stable living situation are Indigenous,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said quoted there. “Any move to forcefully evict them is callous and insensitive to the mental health, addictions, and poverty that they are battling as a result of an ongoing colonial legacy of systemic discrimination and oppression.”

      Last June, the city of Vancouver revealed that in 2019, the number of homeless people had increased for the fourth year in a row. There were 2,223 homeless residents counted this year, compared to 2,181 in 2018, 2,138 the year before that, and 1,847 in 2017.

      According to a staff presentation, 44 percent of Vancouver’s homeless population struggles with a mental illness and 38 percent live with a physical disability. A significantly disproportionate number are Indigenous.

      In 2018, a shocking 40 percent of Vancouver’s homeless population identifies as Indigenous. That compares to just 2.2 percent of the general population.

      Of Indigenous people who were homeless in Vancouver, 46 percent, or 288 people, were sleeping on the street.

      Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, is quoted in the joint statement describing the city’s actions as “unacceptable and an egregious violation of the right to housing”.

      “If the City is taking their obligations under international human rights law seriously, I expect that the Oppenheimer Park residents will not be evicted without a place to go,” she said quoted there.

      “In order for the City’s actions to be compliant with human rights, the residents of Oppenheimer Park need to be meaningfully consulted and included in the development of any plans related to their living situations. This includes working with the residents so that together they can find ways to address issues around fire safety, community clean-up, and violence.”

      As the Straight reported earlier today (August 23), an August 21 deadline for homeless campers to vacate Oppenheimer Park has come and gone but many tents remain on the field in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

      “We expect people sleeping in the park to comply with the order and work with us on accepting the remaining housing and shelter options that are still available,” reads a notice that the city distributed to campers yesterday (August 22). “The Carnegie Outreach Team is in the park to support people who have been sleeping in Oppenheimer Park and help you move into housing or shelter. Please connect with them if you need assistance.”

      According to an August 22 media release, 93 people who were previously camping in Oppenheimer Park have accepted government assistance and transitioned into “safe and stable accommodation”. This accounts for more than two-thirds of campers who were counted sleeping in the park when eviction notice were delivered earlier this week, according to the city.

      The release goes on to warn that if homeless campers remaining in Oppenheimer Park do not accept the government’s offer of assistance or otherwise vacate the area, the city and park board may take “further legal action”.