Oppenheimer vacated peacefully but homeless say they have nowhere to go

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      Nearly three months to the day that homeless people began establishing a camp in Oppenheimer Park, the field is almost entirely cleared of tents and a cleanup operation is underway.

      At the time of writing, the Vancouver Police Department reported that there have been no arrests in relation to the enforcement of a court-ordered injunction that provides for the clearing of the park. (Update: Police took five campers into custody for refusing to leave the area. As of October 17, the VPD had not yet decided if it would recommend the individuals be charged.)

      “Vancouver Police Officers, Fire Fighters and city staff continue to assist those who are in the process of removing their structures from the park,” reads a statement supplied by Const. Randy Fincham. “A number of shelter options are being made available and workers are assisting those in need by providing transportation and storage of their belongings.”

      The eviction order took effect on October 15 at 10 p.m. but police officers mostly kept out of the park until the early afternoon of October 16.

      By that time, the size of the camp had shrunk considerably. Over the course of the preceding 24 hours, its numbers fell from around 150 people the morning of October 16, down to 50 or so the morning after the evictions deadlines.

      The morning after a court-issued deadline for campers to vacate Oppenheimer Park, most of the homeless people living there were either already gone or preparing to leave.
      Travis Lupick

      As most people rolled up their tents and collected their belongings, Stella August, a First Nations elder and one of the camp’s earliest organizers, told the Straight that a few might try and stay but that most were leaving without putting up any further resistance.

      “It’s so sad,” she said. “I’ve been here since day one and I think we need to continue to support the homeless. It’s for that cause. It’s for the people.”

      August emphasized that by evicting people from the park, the City of Vancouver hasn’t addressed the reason for its existence: a lack of affordable housing.

      “I wish the city would stop pushing them around because it’s never going to end,” she said.

      Amy Faith House was sleeping in Oppenheimer Park since before the site was used as a demonstration calling for more affordable housing. As an eviction deadline passed, she packed up her tent and is moving into an SRO hotel.

      Amy Faith House was sleeping in Oppenheimer before other homeless people began establishing full-time residencies there in mid-July. She and her partner used to set up a tent after dark and then pack up just before dawn. But when others began leaving their tents up, she said they did the same.

      Faith House told the Straight she and her boyfriend are moving into a single-room occupancy hotel (SRO), adding that she’ll miss the community of the camp.

      “I really enjoyed it, that there seemed to be unity,” she said. “I always felt safe here. Now, it will be the same old story: shelters, bed bugs, and cockroaches.”

      Faith House joked that she was “made famous” after the Straight posted a photograph of her and her boyfriend on Twitter. She said she worries that if the two have to move into shelters, they won’t be able to stay together. (Few shelters offer shared accommodation for males and females.)

      But Faith House noted that she wasn’t going to risk an encounter with the police, and had packed up her tent one night earlier, before the October 15 evictions deadline arrived.

      Mark Campbell is one of the Oppenheimer campers who accepted the city’s offer of a spot at the new shelter at 900 Pacific Street. But even he was critical of city’s efforts to find housing for the campers in Oppenheimer.

      “I'm sick,” he told the Straight. "I don't want to go into a shelter but I don't think I have a choice."

      Not everybody was as cooperative.

      Gary Humchitt, one of a minority of campers vowing to stay in Oppenheimer Park despite a risk of arrest.

      Gary Humchit told the Straight that he intended to keep his tent pitched in Oppenheimer regardless of the VPD’s warnings that campers who refused to leave the park could be arrested.

      “My plan is, I’m sticking to the end,” he said. “I’m doing this is because we’re going against the government and what they are doing to us. I want the world to see what the government is doing to the homeless. They are going to arrest us because we can’t find a place that suits our needs.”

      At its peak in mid-August, as many as 400 people were living in some 200 tents pitched in Oppenheimer Park.

      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.

      Comments

      10 Comments

      BB Wolf

      Oct 17, 2014 at 8:25am

      If they had somewhere to go they wouldn't be homeless.

      OMG

      Oct 17, 2014 at 9:04am

      Once again, I don't understand why the local bands aren't helping their own. Given that they have a lot of money and space, you'd think that they'd provide housing on their land. I bet that after they make even more money from the recent land sales in Vancouver that they still won't do anything. They should be ashamed of themselves and for the life of me I don't know why the poverty activists don't start harassing the leaders of the bands.

      Lance

      Oct 17, 2014 at 9:40am

      No family...no friends...no job...no life.

      @OMG

      Oct 17, 2014 at 9:47am

      Thank you!! My sentiments exactly and you stated it much more eloquently than I could have.

      I walked by Oppenheimer a few times while the tent city was there and the 'tenants' were disproportionately native. I'd say north of half.

      Why are we throwing so much money at the native and somewhat intertwined homeless problems and yet nothing ever seems to get resolved?

      (call me a racist all you like, I'm just making an observation)

      OMG

      Oct 17, 2014 at 10:12am

      "Why are we throwing so much money at the native and somewhat intertwined homeless problems and yet nothing ever seems to get resolved?"

      That's what I was thinking. The problem of native homelessness never seems to get resolved, and according to activists and natives it's been going on for quite some time and there is almost no hope that it will ever be addressed to the degree that both of those groups demand. I've also heard quite a bit that nobody other than natives are capable of understanding native culture and this is a major hindrance to finding a solution.

      To me, having the local bands provide housing, on their sparsely populated lands, run by natives, would seem to be the best option. Even if the governments provide help with funding it would seem to be a better option than what we have now. I'm not trying to be glib and I'm not being racist. I would like someone to provide a reasonable answer to why it's not an option. I'll assume that it's not an original idea, so someone must know the history of this type of solution. Are the bands the ones who are rejecting it? If so, why? Is there a fundamental flaw in the idea that would shed some light on this?

      Martin Dunphy

      Oct 17, 2014 at 11:53am

      @OMG:

      And homeless people of Ukrainian origin should be taken care of by Ukrainian associations, ditto with the damned Irish and those shiftless Greeks...
      Indigenous people are Canadian citizens. Maybe start there. And maybe don't tell them to go back where they came from. After all, they, and you, are already there.

      blah

      Oct 17, 2014 at 12:12pm

      @Martin, OMG is asking valid questions. Figured someone like you would infer hostility.

      Martin Dunphy

      Oct 17, 2014 at 12:28pm

      @blah:

      Yeah, anti-racists have a habit of popping up at the most inconvenient times.

      Doktor

      Oct 17, 2014 at 3:28pm

      Martin, I can't help but note that very often, the most far-right, redneck cranks articulate this "they should be treated just like everyone else" attitude towards First Nations people. Most of us realize that things are much more complex and nuanced than that. We have separate fisheries for FN people, we have different rules for sentencing in Criminal Law, and FN activists have repeatedly criticized treating FN children at risk in the same manner as non-FN children. And so on. It's hardly racist to note that sometimes FN people have different needs and that different solutions to problems are sometimes appropriate. That is, as far as I can see, what FN activists have been arguing on many different policy fronts.

      Martin Dunphy

      Oct 18, 2014 at 2:03pm

      Doktor:

      Thanks for your response. You are correct, of course, that would hardly be considered racist.
      Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with what I was responding to, namely someone who keeps pushing his agenda in these pages that "those people" should be looking after their own.
      I refuse to suffer racists, even "benign" racists, gladly.