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.
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 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 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.