APRIL 24TH 2019 PRESS CONFERENCE: Police and pitchforks: weekly raids displace and harass campers in Oppenheimer Park
City inaction despite motion “Helping Campers in Oppenheimer Park” passed six weeks ago
April 23, 2019 – It has been six weeks since a motion called “Helping Campers in Oppenheimer Park” was passed by the Parks Board and Vancouver city council, and yet campers report no new supports or facilities have been implemented in the park.
Instead of the supports approved by the motion, there are weekly raids or “clean ups” in Oppenheimer Park on Wednesdays. Campers must move their tents and belongings to the side of the park and remain with it for upwards of four hours in rain or inclement weather while city workers and VPD toss tents and belongings into trucks with pitchforks.
The motion – passed unanimously by city council on March 14 and by Parks Board on March 11 – directed city staff to explore and fund temporary or permanent accommodations for campers, temporarily implement a warming station in the park or in close proximity, work with peer organizations to provide 24-hour washroom access, explore options to securely keep possessions, and “continue to communicate about other possible solutions to help end and humanize homelessness”.
City staff claim there is no immediate need for a warming station due to increasing temperatures, that campers are “hoarding” and creating health and safety concerns, and that storage facilities cost $150,000 per year or more in other cities. Yet city staff also acknowledged that the weekly raids are costing the city upwards of $15,000 per day. John Millar, vice president of the Public Health Association of BC, calls homelessness a “moral, financial and health crisis”.
Last week, there were a record number of 51 tents in the park. Almost half the days in April have been below average temperature, with one overnight as low as 1.6 degrees. Vancouver had rain on 15 out of 23 days in April. Campers say they are impacted by dehumanizing treatment by city workers and VPD. *Stories and recommendations below*
WHAT: Press conference
WHEN: Wednesday April 24, 11:00 am
WHERE: Oppenheimer Park, corner of Cordova and Dunlevy
WHO: Caitlin Shane, staff lawyer at Pivot
Larry Carlston, American Indian Movement
Erica Grant, Carnegie Community Action Project
Camper from Oppenheimer Park
Alexandra (not her real name), who has been living in the park since November, says:
“It is very difficult to try to get out of a homeless situation. There is constant slamming coming from city workers, police, and other public people. The city comes at 9 every morning and are there til noon, so we are stuck where we are. We can’t go to healthcare and on Wednesdays they force us all to pack it all out of the park. I must tear down and set up hours later. My art projects, evidence, paperwork all got damaged over the winter – everything destroyed. All my records from before homelessness are gone. It creates a situation that is almost impossible to get out of.”
Here are a few stories and anecdotes from campers:
- A 30-year-old Indigenous man with an injured knee and Rheumatoid arthritis has his elderly mom and brother stay with him to help pack his stuff up so that he doesn’t get it thrown out. He videotapes the city staff as they have been abusive, and he can’t believe how he is being treated. “I don’t know what to do. I want housing and no one can find any for me,” he says.
- Another many says, “I have been here since November. They treat us terribly and it should be against the law.”
- On April 3rd, a camper called 311 and said that the city should not do weekly “clean up” on a rainy day when tenters would need to stand outside in the rain for hours. The raid was carried out as usual.
- A middle-aged camper was told by workers that he, “wouldn’t get pneumonia in the rain, it’s 14 degrees out”. He told them to feel his hands to see how cold they were.
- Seeing city workers trying to take her belongings, a 28-year-old female camper ran back across the park and threw a pastry their direction. She was thrown on the ground, kneed in her side and arrested.
- A carpenter recently broke his wrist and can’t work, so ended up homeless again. While staying at the park, he helps others during the clean-up after packing up his own things.
- A tenter was named as a complainant in the BC Supreme Court Case by Pivot during a 2014 tent city. He says he has been harassed by authorities ever since.
- A camper was insulted by city engineering staff, who called him names, and threatened by a VPD officer who said he wouldn`t get housing. The officer denied it later. *This camper did get housing*
- A woman who lived in the park with her son told workers she had to go to the welfare office and would be back. When she came back five city crew and three VPD officers were looking in her tent. There was some yelling and the supervisor kicked a yellow milk crate. After they left, she said, “that guy told me to go back to the reserve.”
- After an interaction with an Indigenous tenter, a city worker put up his fists and said “I’ve been trained to deal with idiots like you”
- A man went running across the park because the city staff and VPD were by his tent. He didn’t become physical but was yelling and swearing. It lasted about 5 minutes and they put him in cuffs and took everything.
- There was some yelling outside the field house. It was a city engineering staff, a VPD, and an Indigenous man. After the engineering staff and VPD left, the man said, “I was just standing here, and that city guy asked what the fuck I was looking at.”
- A woman and her son were living in a tent. The city crew came by one day and her son was with his tent and she wasn’t there, and they took everything. She said, “those are the only clothes he has left…what’s he’s wearing.”
- On the day of the Homelessness Count (March 13th), city staff were asked not to be there for the weekly Wednesday clear out. But there were there anyway.
- City staff walked by a park patron and called him a “dumb ass”. He yelled it out loud of the truck as he drove past. He called him a fucking idiot and a dumb ass.
- Many tenters say they understand the expectations on the clear-out days and comply. When people do step up to protect their belongings, they draw negative attention
“There is so much inhumanity where we lose what’s left,” says Alexandra. “The inconsideration of taking the last of their worldly goods and they are desperately hanging on to things they cannot replace. Things that may not have much street value just being tossed out – so cold. We need papers. It is a real problem for people to lose their papers and get them wet. If people can store it in a place and they can access it.”
- Immediately implement the provisions of the motion passed by Parks Board on March 11 and city council on March 14
- Stop daily and weekly raids that destroy belongings, harass and intimidate and displace campers
- Implement 24-hour, safe and hygenic washroom access with peer support. A report called “DTES Public Toilet Project” was written in 2012 by VANDU with funding from the City of Vancouver. “As part of the DTES Public Toilet Project approximately 90 community member volunteers trained by VANDU supervised the extended hours at Oppenheimer Park. This experience supports the recommendation in the 2006 Engineering Report to Council to explore peer supervision as a workable model for toilet monitoring.”
- Immediately provide a warming/drying station or housing for campers. Ross Hotel on Alexander and the Vernon Hotel are virtually empty and could accommodate up under-housed residents.
- Respond to and take seriously the reports of harassment, racism, insults and threats by VPD and city engineering staff. Rotate staff or end the raids.
- Delay or cancel the planned upcoming “re-seeding” of the park, that will further displace campers
- Provide secure and accessible storage facilities for papers, valuables and other important items; and stop removing tents and personal belongings.
- Talk to campers about ongoing health and safety needs and suggestions.
- Don’t expect campers to take the first housing offered – see what works for them. Alexandra: “When someone moves into these [buildings] there are rules – strict guidelines, no visitors etc. You must check in and they try to control and manipulate our lives.”
- The motion stipulated specific things such as 24-hour washroom access, storage, peer workers, and to continue working with the parks board while exploring other options.
- Change federal, provincial and city housing policies that promote austerity and displace the most vulnerable, hard to house, under-employed and newcomers. All levels of government must invest in permanent, long-term affordable housing for all.
Oppenheimer Park is on the unceded traditional territory of the Tsleil Waututh, Musqueam and Squamish First Nations, and has long been considered a safe haven, and hub, for social justice.
Media ethics – please be respectful of campers’ privacy and understand that tents are their homes. If visiting the park during daytime hours, please ask staff at the field house to assist.