The occupation of Oppenheimer Park is marking a few milestones this week.
One month has passed since the City of Vancouver served campers calling for affordable housing with an eviction notice on July 19. Not only are demonstrators still there, but by the Straight ’s count on August 19, their tents have grown from a few dozen to more than 150.
By coincidence, a feast is planned for Friday (August 22). According to camp organizer Brody Williams, a First Nations commercial fisherman named Joshua Duncan is providing 500 sockeye salmon for the event.
“It’s a real generous donation,” Williams said. “That’s the kind of community we are here.”
Williams added that everyone is welcome to attend, including police and fire department officials who have helped keep the tent city safe. Invitations have also been extended to city councillors.
Despite the camp’s growth, protesters told the Straight they are not receiving much attention from municipal politicians.
Interviewed over breakfast around a campfire, several people recalled visits from Jenny Kwan, NDP MLA for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, and Libby Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver East.
Stories about civic politicians’ visits were harder to come by.
Stella August, a First Nations elder who helps run the camp, said city staff members make regular visits. But she couldn’t recall any elected officials with Vision Vancouver or the Non-Partisan Association having visited Oppenheimer in recent weeks.
“We haven’t had any [civic] politicians step on the ground here,” August said.
Vision councillor Kerry Jang told the Straight that he’s actually visited the camp on numerous occasions.
“I don’t always go right in, but I’m in Chinatown all the time so I try and swing by fairly regularly,” he explained in a phone interview. “But the best meeting we had was when they came to City Hall, about a month ago [on July 22]. Our senior staff were there, and so we have an extensive list of their concerns and issues. And we’re working on them.”
The NPA did not make a representative available for an interview. A spokesperson wrote in an email that mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe was last in Oppenheimer on July 22.
Jang said there are currently no plans to use physical action to remove protesters from the park. Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Randy Fincham likewise reported the VPD has “not been asked to intervene in this matter at this time”.
According to the region’s last homeless count, the number of people sleeping unsheltered on the streets of Vancouver has more than tripled over the past three years, from 154 in 2011 to 536 in 2014.