Kitsilano resident questions if bias involved in recent removal of homeless camp

25 Mar 2023 | Canada | 143 |
Kitsilano resident questions if bias involved in recent removal of homeless camp

Days after East Vancouver residents questioned why tents in a west side park were addressed so quickly, a Kitsilano resident is raising similar concerns about whether an income-related bias exists in terms of how encampments in public parks are dealt with.

Growing up on the west side, Alex Trottier said his financially stable family helped get him the care he needed to fight substance abuse and mental health issues.

Now sober and in recovery, Trottier wonders why two tents in Vanier Park near his home on the Arbutus Greenway, were met with swift action from the city following a local resident’s recent complaint.

“I generally think if it wasn’t for my parents, I would be living in one of those encampments right now,” Trottier told Global News in an interview Friday.

In a March 21 email sent to the city, mayor Ken Sim and the Vancouver Police Department, Trottier stated he was “extremely appalled” by the quick response to disband the Vanier Park tent encampment “simply because it exists in a part of the city that is inhabited by those of us who are materially wealthier than the rest of the citizens of Vancouver.”

Earlier that day, and six days after Elvira Lount shared concerns on social media about tents in Vanier Park, the Vancouver Park Board began taking action to clear the small camp.

“When the lives of people who are more affluent are impacted, the city is more willing to actually acknowledge there are issues with tent encampments,” Trottier told Global News.

A tent city in Strathcona Park lasted 10 months between June 2020 and April 2021, while an earlier entrenched encampment at Oppenheimer Park lingered for 18 months before the province finally moved in to clear the tents and offer people housing options.

More recently, the western edge of CRAB Park’s waterfront has been home to dozens of tents for almost two years.

Trottier’s note to city officials asked why other neighbourhoods are “allowed to be subject to crime, violence, and risk being randomly stabbed by walking out of their house?”

He also asked why the CRAB Park encampment is still there, and why tent encampments have been allowed to grow throughout the Downtown Eastside, “but the moment a hint of an encampment starts in a wealthier neighbourhood it gets shut down?”

Trottier believes the reaction shows a complete lack of a comprehensive plan for dealing with tent encampments, homelessness and substance abuse issues, and a general division of who has access to what resources across the city.

One of the people currently living in one of two tents at Vanier Park is also puzzled.

“I think it’s segregation,” said a man who identified himself to Global News as Zak Smith, and said he’d been camping in the wooded area for eight months.

“I think that’s maybe them thinking that we’re lower class,” said Smith.

Everyone in Vancouver, Trottier wrote, “deserves a safe neighbourhood to live in regardless of their income.”

“It kind of pains me almost to see people that are in desperate need of help, and people that are impacted by their decisions,” Trottier said.

“The city is essentially giving them the middle finger and saying as long as you’re not financially well off, your needs don’t matter.”

Vancouver mayor Ken Sim was not available to respond to Trottier’s email Friday, but his ABC Vancouver majority council insisted the city does not respond to encampments based on the income levels of the neighbourhoods they are in.

The Vancouver Park Board said it has been aware of people living in Vanier Park since October, and when propane tanks were reported, residents were asked to remove their belongings so the site could be cleared due to safety concerns.

Park board Chair Scott Jensen has also said the previous encampments in Oppenheimer and Strathcona parks, and the ongoing one in CRAB Park predated the current board’s term in office.

The new municipal government is working towards “ensuring that those situations do not occur anywhere else within our city,” he said.

Going forward, overnight sheltering bylaws will be enforced anywhere permanent tents pop up, Jensen said.

ABC Vancouver Coun. Rebecca Bligh said recently that the park board and city staff also quickly addressed a challenging and similar situation involving people sheltering in an east side park and ravine.

Bligh said she understands Trottier’s concerns based on how past encampments on the east side were dealt with but assured the public history will not be used as a barometer for the city’s response to encampments in the future.

However, Bligh said that when encampments become entrenched as they have on East Hastings Street and in CRAB Park, they become much more difficult to address.

“We’re continuously working with the province particularly around the East Hastings encampment,” Bligh told Global News in an interview Friday.

“They’re not as simple as one or two structures or even three structures that are in an isolated area in a park that can be responded to very differently … and also CRAB Park is under a legal process right now.”

A January 2022 BC Supreme Court decision ruled people cannot be evicted from CRAB Park if suitable housing alternatives are not available, complicating the Park Board’s ability to remove tents.

by Global News