Homeless have run out of places where they can be, so parks are about the only option, advocate says
Poet and author Charles Bukowski described himself as a series of small victories among many defeats, and he often wrote about the kind of underdogs Fiona York advocates for today.
It’s the small wins that offer encouragement, she said, among all the heartache and heartbreak of the Downtown Eastside that has spread to Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.
“I guess I focus on the task at hand,” York said over coffee at a corner grocer across the Street from MacLean Park in Strathcona, not far from the larger park where more than 300 tents have been pitched and more than 400 people are living.
“It can be frustrating, it seems likes this long, long road and no action, but I do sometimes see small movement, small victories that keep people going.”
COVID-19 has only made things worse. People are using drugs alone because of social distancing. York has lost six people she said she was close to since April, all devastating to her.
“It gets to me, I find it overwhelming the last few months, there’s been a lot of loss and grief. I find it helps to focus on what needs to be done next and getting past that. It’s easier to direct energies rather than get caught up in the grief.”
You may have seen York quoted in the paper or on TV at Oppenheimer, CRAB and Strathcona parks, calling on the Park Board, the city of Vancouver, the province and the feds to find a solution to the hundreds of homeless people forced from park to park in Vancouver like a cruel game of whack-a-mole that punishes the homeless and neighbourhood residents, alike.
She’s been championing the downtrodden since she arrived in Vancouver 18 years ago from back East.
“There are seniors waiting for housing, I’ve heard of people being on a wait-list for 19 years for housing,” York said. “People have passed away in the interim while they’re waiting.”
Her brother Geoffrey is a well-known foreign-affairs and war-zone correspondent with the Globe and Mail, currently based in Africa.
York started out in media, as well, working at a handful of radio stations, but she decided the path of not-for-profit advocate was more up her alley.
Today, she is coordinator with the Carnegie Community Action Project, a tenant support worker with the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, and president of the board of directors of the volunteer Multicultural Family Support Services Society.
Strathcona residents are becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing crime and drug use in their neighbourhood. A day after York’s interview and a stone’s throw away from where it took place, a homeless man threatened to stab Vancouver councillor Pete Fry, who lives in the neighbourhood.
While that confrontation hadn’t yet occurred, York defended the rights of the tent-city campers to be where they are.
“Right now there is no place where people who are homeless can be. They can’t be on the street, they can’t be in a parking lot. The only place that winds up being even remotely possible is a park, unless something else changes.
“I see (residents’) point, but I see discrepancy on the impacts on people, on somebody who is a homeowner in the neighbourhood and somebody who is homeless and desperate and in dire need.”
BC Homeless has personally worked and volunteered with Fiona. We can proudly confirm that Fiona is gift to Vancouver and to the homeless. We hope one day she runs for Mayor of Vancouver.