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Tent city at Vancouver's Strathcona Park growing, no enforcement of bylaw on removing tents in the morning

Vancouver Sun logo Vancouver Sun 2020-07-24 Gordon McIntyre
Homeless encampment, known as Camp K.T., at Strathcona Park in Vancouver, has been growing fast. © Jason Payne Homeless encampment, known as Camp K.T., at Strathcona Park in Vancouver, has been growing fast.
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A new bylaw that allows overnight camping in parks — but requires tents to be taken down by 7 a.m. — is not being enforced at Strathcona Park, where a tent city continues to grow.

On Thursday there were 311 tents in the park, which accounts for about 80 per cent of the green space in the neighbourhood, according to the Strathcona Residents Association.

The park board passed the bylaw on July 15 by a 4-3 vote, to conform to a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that said seeking refuge in public spaces when other shelter is unavailable is a constitutional right.

“This is a super-complex problem with a lot of nuance,” said Katie Lewis, vice-president of the Strathcona Residents Association. “We are supportive, but of a smaller encampment, maybe 20 or 25 tents, and not in a public park.

“The park board has told us bluntly they are not going to enforce” the bylaw, she said.

Lewis feels there is lots of blame to share out among the city, province, feds and the park board. Most of the original campers, about 30 or so, moved from a waterfront lot next to CRAB Park five weeks ago, after the port authority got an injunction ordering them off its land.

And most of those had previously been at Oppenheimer Park, before that park was closed and fenced off by the park board.

The campers are asking the park board to lift the prohibition against daytime camping for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People need housing, they need community, they need a place not just to stabilize, but to heal,” said Chrissy Brett, a spokeswoman for the Indigenous-led tent city. “They need to know they are loved, that they’re seen, that they are heard.”

a group of people in a field:  Homeless encampment at Strathcona Park in Vancouver. © Jason Payne Homeless encampment at Strathcona Park in Vancouver.

While she was speaking with a reporter a man approached, saying his tent had been stolen. Something would be set up for him, she told the man.

But while food and shelter is donated, no one is qualified to deal with mental health, physical health or addiction issues.

“Organic tent cities are created by broken people,” Brett said. “They work for awhile, but people don’t have all the tools they need and their families are so far away.

“There is safety in numbers, there is safety being in a community, but it gets to a point where you start dealing with day-to-day friction in a community without the tools to cope with it.”

Church groups and other volunteers hand out food, clothing and tents. The park board has provided hand-sanitizer stations, although it looks like the tent city could use a lot more.

A service truck was emptying portable toilets Thursday morning, while workers with Spikes on Bikes, a service managed by the PHS Community Services Society , were picking up stray garbage.

A sign on the tennis courts warns no camping is allowed and that the park is closed between 10 p.m. and 6 p.m. One camper with a sense of humour has a sign saying No Parking decorated with a wreath and a wooden horse wearing a hat.

Radios and generators provide a background hum, and a misting station and water tap are hooked up to a fire hydrant. The area around a huge oak tree has been roped off to protect the eagle nest above and is adorned with prayer flags.

A couple of tents have been packed up and moved after their occupants were asked to leave because of disruptive behaviour.

The park board, which has 14 rangers for its 240 parks, did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

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