Press Release: Eviction would be “callous and insensitive”: City of Vancouver, Parks Board and B.C. Housing freeze out homeless people

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Eviction would be “Callous and Insensitive”: City of Vancouver, Parks Board and BC Housing freeze out homeless people.

Unceded Coast Salish Territories, August 23– Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Leilani Farha, have condemned any move to evict or further marginalize vulnerable, largely Indigenous people living in Oppenheimer Park.

On Monday, the Vancouver Parks Board issued a General Order to residents of Oppenheimer Park, requiring that they remove tents and structures by August 21st at 6:00 p.m. 

The Order came a full year after Vancouver’s longest-running tent city began and was to be enforced on “cheque day”, a significant date when many park residents are off-site and especially vulnerable. This Order was preceded by repeated assurances from City liaisons over the last several weeks that no plans were in place to evict Oppenheimer residents.

Although the Order assured housing to residents, only 140 units of mostly SRO housing (and some shelter beds) have been offered–not nearly enough to house approximately 300 people living in 225 tents at the time of the Order, much less the thousands of people experiencing homelessness across the city.

The 140 vacancies are the result of a “unit freeze” that BC Housing imposed on its buildings for several months in order to coordinate the clearance of Oppenheimer Park. Stockpiling these units for months meant that other homeless people, who may be equally if not more vulnerable and in need, were frozen out. “It’s extremely hard to get housing right now as you know,” said a Downtown Eastside housing worker last week.

The City and Park Board’s actions are not only ineffective in addressing and reducing homelessness, but also replicate settler colonial practices that effect Indigenous people who face eviction from lands that are unceded.

Larry Carlton of the American Indian Movement says, “My people are suffering, and they’re going to suffer more, because of this action. People who are waiting in line could be my people.”

Statements from the City of Vancouver indicate that further action to facilitate moving people from Oppenheimer Park — including fencing off a portion of the park — may be contemplated. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, states: “A disproportionately high number of the vulnerable park residents facing the loss of a safe and stable living situation are Indigenous. Any move to forcefully evict them is callous and insensitive to the mental health, addictions, and poverty that they are battling as a result of an ongoing colonial legacy of systemic discrimination and oppression. The City of Vancouver stands to violate the basic rights of Indigenous peoples articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, as well as blatantly ignore the call for safe housing that is appropriate to the cultural and economic needs of Indigenous peoples set out in the National Inquiry’s Calls for Justice.”

Further, the City has both Charter and international human rights obligations to ensure that people are not being evicted or decamped without being provided adequate housing.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Leilani Farha: “Evictions into homelessness are unacceptable and an egregious violation of the right to housing. If the City is taking their obligations under international human rights law seriously, I expect that the Oppenheimer Park residents will not be evicted without a place to go.”

For many months City bylaw and police officers have been directing homeless people to live at Oppenheimer. Now that residents may be served an eviction notice, and despite repeated asks, no government actor has provided an answer to the question “where are those who remain homeless supposed to be if Oppenheimer is closed?”

The Parks Board and BC Housing did not respond to numerous calls over the past weeks to converse with advocates and organizers staying in the park. Residents and advocates have been left out of decision-making processes concerning Oppenheimer residents, who already face pressure and anxiety from housing uncertainty.

“In order for the City’s actions to be compliant with human rights, the residents of Oppenheimer Park need to be meaningfully consulted and included in the development of any plans related to their living situations. This includes working with the residents so that together they can find ways to address issues around fire safety, community clean-up, and violence” says Leilani Farah.

Instead, the months-long plan to remove people from Oppenheimer Park was enacted without transparency and time for supporters and advocates to help ensure a thorough and fair process.

“For me, it’s been heartbreaking when people who’ve been here longer than others aren’t being seen [by housing outreach workers],” says tent city organizer Chrissy Brett.

Out Homes Can’t Wait and Oppenheimer Park advocates demand that the City of Vancouver, provincial and federal governments and Parks Board:

  • Build modular housing and new housing that actually addresses the homelessness crisis
  • Do not fence off Oppenheimer Park
  • Ensure all housing provided is protected by the Residential Tenancy Act.
  • Clearly indicate the name and location of places people can go if evicted and no housing has been provided to them
  • Acknowledge that these actions are taking placed on unceded Indigenous territories

Media Contacts

Chrissy Brett
Organizer at Oppenheimer Tent City
1-250-415-2348

Fiona York, Coordinator and Administrator
Carnegie Community Action Project
604-251-6164

Flora Munroe 
Vandu, Our Homes Can’t Wait 
236-886-1125

Media ethics: please remember that for many people, a tent is a home, and be respectful when approaching people living in the park.

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Backgrounder

Long considered a safe place and social justice zone, Oppenheimer Park has a long history for Indigenous people. “From time immemorial, this area was a gathering place for Aboriginal people, a place to hunt and gather and meet others. First Nations people who felt unwelcome in Stanley Park after its founding in 1887 made this park “their home” (Heart of the City Festival). It is the only park designated by the Parks Board as a site for free speech in that decade of marches, sit-ins, and mass demonstrations.

There are well over 2223 homeless people in the City of Vancouver. Most have no access to daytime shelter, and at least 600 people have zero overnight shelter options. Tent cities like Oppenheimer provide safety in community. At Oppenheimer Park, residents can access a VCH-sanctioned, peer-run Overdose Prevention Site, basic sanitation services, some food security and peer support. Tent cities are often considered “harm reduction zones” in the midst of housing crises, as they reduce exposure to external violence and the elements and provide basic necessities and a community of peers.

Finding appropriate housing takes time, sometimes months, to ensure it is stable housing and suitable for the individual or family. 

Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

As of 9 pm on August 22, there were 127 tents in the park. 

Fiona York
CCAP Coordinator and Administrator

fiona@carnegieaction.org | 604-665-2105 
Carnegie Community Centre
401 Main Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 2T7 
Unceded Coast Salish Territories

The Carnegie Community Action Project is a project of the board of the Carnegie Community Centre Association. CCAP works mostly on housing, income, and land use issues in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver so that the area can remain a low income friendly community.