Permanent tent city proposal panned by COPE’s rivals

Candidate says encampment better than unsafe homeless shelters and SROs

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      The chair of the Vancouver park board has called the Coalition of Progressive Electors’ proposal of a permanent tent city “irresponsible”.

      “I don’t think that a permanent tent city is a viable option, not only for the folks who would be living there but also for the folks that might be using that park space,” Aaron Jasper told the Georgia Straight by phone. “We’re supposed to make sure that our parks are safe and inclusive for everybody, whether they are housed or not.”

      The Vision Vancouver park commissioner was responding to an idea put forth by COPE park-board candidates Ezra Bloom and Imtiaz Popat on October 7, as they spoke out in support of homeless campers who were fighting the City of Vancouver’s bid for an injunction to remove them from Oppenheimer Park.

      Bloom told the Straight that Vancouver is “one of the most incredibly unaffordable cities in the world”. He asserted that the alternatives to living at the Oppenheimer tent city reinforce the criminalization of poverty and homelessness and put people’s health and safety at risk.

      “We’re forcing people into prisonlike shelter systems and death-trap SROs, and essentially saying someone has to go be supervised,” Bloom said by phone. “You know, police pick people up and take them to shelters and make sure they stay there.”

      So far, COPE hasn’t suggested any sites for a permanent tent city, but the party wants the park board to consider the idea. Bloom said he could envision tent cities being established in more than one park in Vancouver.

      Government-sanctioned tent cities have been set up in Seattle and Portland, he noted. Bloom maintained that a long-term encampment in Vancouver would require sanitation and sewage infrastructure as well as harm-reduction and mental-health services on site.

      “In this city, there’s clearly a need for a tent city and for infrastructure for that, because people can’t find safe shelters, they can’t find safe housing, and it’s a system that’s failing people,” Bloom said.

      Shortly after the Oppenheimer Park tent city went up in mid-July, the City of Vancouver served campers with an eviction notice. On September 23, the city announced it had filed for an injunction. The case entered the B.C. Supreme Court on September 29.

      The Oppenheimer tent city is just the latest in a long line of homeless encampments in Vancouver. In recent memory, there was the Occupy Vancouver settlement outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2011, the Olympic tent village at 58 West Hastings Street in 2010, and the tent city at Victory Square in 2003.

      Michael Wiebe, a park-board candidate with the Green Party of Vancouver, told the Straight that he has heard from homeless people that they don’t want to go to filthy and unsafe shelters and single-room-occupancy hotels. He argued that a better transitional housing solution is needed.

      “I don’t think that a tent city is what these people want in the long term,” Wiebe said by phone. “I don’t think people want to be living in tents.”

      Wiebe suggested that the city look at building temporary housing on public land out of recycled and surplus materials. These tiny homes could come with a time limit on residency, ensuring they’re used only for transition purposes.

      “They can build little shelters, and they can use that as a temporary tool,” Wiebe said. “They can have an address at that park, so they can receive mail. They can use a computer there that can give them Internet access. So there are much better solutions than creating a tent city.”

      According to Non-Partisan Association park-board commissioner Melissa De Genova, who is running for city council, a permanent tent city isn’t the way to go. She told the Straight that parks are recreational spaces for the “whole community”.

      “I think that it’s unfortunate that it’s come to this,” De Genova said by phone. “Had we had true, open, transparent public consultation, and had [Mayor] Gregor Robertson not promised to end homelessness by 2015, the situation would not have been inflamed to this.”

      De Genova blamed a “lack of leadership” by Vision’s elected politicians for the dearth of better options available to homeless people in the city.

      “We see no housing options, and we see people being told where to go, instead of asked what they want,” De Genova said. “I think that we have to start to think about how we are consulting with the public—the people down in Oppenheimer Park and the people that need to be a part of the solution, which is the community.”



      Nicholas Ellan

      Oct 7, 2014 at 7:16pm

      Instead of creating a new tent city, how about we just turn over Concord Pacific's existing tent site in Northeast False Creek? They've been there since Expo 86 and still haven't gotten their act together. Time for someone else to have a turn, I think. We can even insist that the new homeless occupants pay the same taxes that Concord is currently paying: $1/year.


      Oct 7, 2014 at 8:14pm

      most people don't know about successful initiatives to support houseless people like "Right 2 Dream too" unfortunately, so they cannot see the merit of this proposal.

      Evicting homeless?

      Oct 7, 2014 at 9:00pm

      How does it make sense to evict homeless people from a park. Where are they going to go, into doorways and alleys?

      Sid Chow Tan

      Oct 7, 2014 at 10:57pm

      Was recorded on CKNW advocating for designated park space for homeless. Not sure it broadcast.

      The homeless are the canaries of our social services and conscience. Only one answer - build more social and supportive housing.

      Imtiaz Popat

      Oct 8, 2014 at 12:02am

      It irresponsible for the Vancouver Park Board to evict the campers at Oppenheimer Park. They have proposed any solutions. At least City Council is trying to find them housing, but evicting them before this possible housing is available is irresponsible. Permanent tent cities have worked south of the boarder. There are four tent city cites in Washington State. It is not a solution to permanent housing, but it is an option to consider. There can be washrooms, kitchen facilities and even community gardens to grow food. Where are these campers going to go tomorrow when they are evicted from the Park? Sleep in the streets, allies and under bridges where they are not safe?

      Asked and Answered

      Oct 8, 2014 at 8:08am

      Imtiaz asks, "Where are these campers going to go tomorrow when they are evicted from the Park?"

      Take your pick:
      a) back to where they came from
      b) wherever their next hit or drink is
      c) nobody gives a rat's ass
      d) all of the above

      Oy Gevalt

      Oct 8, 2014 at 8:15am

      @Nicholas Ellan

      I'm about as right as it gets around here, but I actually like that idea. Well, some of it anyway.

      The Concord land is a helluva nice piece of waterfront property and I for one would rather not see it trashed by theses ... ummm ... errr ... campers.

      But how about your idea on the PNE grounds? It's close enough to the city so they can work if they want. Right on transit. All of the infrastructure is already there ... toilets, water, hydro, etc. and the area is already fenced.


      Oct 8, 2014 at 8:23am

      Imtiaz Popat
      "It irresponsible for the Vancouver Park Board to evict the campers at Oppenheimer Park. They have proposed any solutions."

      Not it isn't, because it is not the job of the Park Board to "propose solutions" and find housing for anyone that is homeless that sets up a tent in a city park.

      You may feel that it is on an ethical or moral basis, and it very well may be, but that is not the mandate of the Park Board.

      If you expect the government to offer solutions, then you have to actually know how government works; it is not just one big amorphous blob where everyone is responsible for everything all the time.

      You may as well get angry that the VPD fails to feed anyone that shows up at a station claiming to be hungry. Perhaps we can also get Parking Enforcement offers to inspect buildings and put out fires while out and about.

      You have been around civic politics long enough to know this, and as with the candidates of any other party, if you want to be this obviously disingenuous to try to capture votes, you do not deserve any