A protest calling for affordable housing in Vancouver continues to expand.
By the Straight’s rough count conducted this morning (September 4), there are now approximately 200 tents pitched in the Downtown Eastside’s Oppenheimer Park.
Chatting beside a small fire pit, Stella August, a First Nations elder who helps run the camp, told the Straight that number matches her estimate.
She added that organizers guess there’s an average of two people living in each tent, making for a total of more than 400 campers.
(The Vancouver Police Department confirmed it keeps an official tent count. A request to share that number was not fulfilled.)
The City of Vancouver served campers with eviction notices on July 19, a day that’s come to be used as an approximate start date for the protest. But those orders haven’t been enforced.
One month later, on August 20, the Straight reported that Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said there are currently no plans to use physical action to remove people from the park. VPD spokesperson Randy Fincham likewise reported the VPD has “not been asked to intervene in this matter at this time”.
There are, however, new rules for tents pitched in Oppenheimer, which is located on Dunlevy Avenue between Powell and East Cordova streets.
In response to one tarp catching fire last week, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services began distributing notices on September 3.
The use of candles and open flames is prohibited (it appears the camp’s central fire pit, which organizers describe as sacred, is an exception).
There are also new directions for how tents should be erected. They should not be pitched within 30 feet of streets bordering the park. And only one tent is permitted under each tarp—a condition that will likely leave some campers wet with the onset of Vancouver’s fall rains.
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.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is up for re-election in November, has promised to end street homelessness by 2015.