Vancouver Tent City, 2014

This wonderful city I live in will always be my favorite place of residence, and that really goes without saying, but if I was to claim that Vancouver was a city without its fair share of problems, not only would I be wrong, but the statement itself might rate as one of the most asinine things that I had ever said. A city just doesn’t grow to this size, or achieve this kind of quality without at various times in its history having the unfortunate experience of having to step on some individual’s toes, or of failing to meet the needs of one particular group of people or another, or antagonizing this bunch of citizens by seeking to satisfy the other bunch. It’s just the way things are, you can’t satisfy everybody since even if you had the money to cover every cost involved with every possible improvement and addition that every individual citizen in your community desired, there would still be all those people that were simply going to be unhappy unless some of the things that their neighbors wanted were disallowed. Sad to say, and though they would never admit it, I suspect that very often the real reason for one person wanting something disallowed, would be simply BECAUSE someone else wanted it. Anyway, there really isn’t much we can do about that kind of stuff, and like I sort of intimated earlier, I suspect every community has their share of that type of thing going on.

A city tour bus.
A tour bus cruising through Gastown in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

But there are some things we can concern ourselves with, and in fact, if we want our cities that have earned good reputations over the years to continue to enjoy the commendations they have deservedly received, we pretty much have to concern ourselves with these particular things. So let me share an example of such a thing with you today that I know is not unique to Vancouver, but is just one of several similar events occurring in a number of Canadian and American communities, and I suspect in other countries of the world as well. I’m referring to the various Tent Cities that have sprung up this summer across North America as people unite to protest the lack of affordable housing for the lowest income members of our larger cities, and those that for whatever reason, lack income altogether.

A sign in Tent City.
A sign in Tent City, in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park, 2014.

Here in Vancouver, our Tent city first turned up in June, just a few tents, a small number of people who felt they had no where else to go, and hey, a tent in a park is a lot more comfortable than a couple layers of cardboard on a warm-air grate under a bridge or some similar place. As usual, someone objected to these people getting too comfortable, and the city set about trying to evict them. That’s when two rather strange things happened. First of all, one of the Aboriginal bands in town, the Musqueum Nation, hit the city with a counter-eviction notice on the grounds that the land in question was “unceded” and thus, the First Nations were evicting the City from the Park. The second strange thing that happened was that City Council, with the mayor’s blessing,

Tent City in Vancouver, 2014
Part of the Vancouver Tent City, 2014. At one point there were over 180 tents in Oppenheimer Park.

then passed a motion confirming this whole thing. So in the end, the campers remained, and the number of tents in the park grew, over the next couple of months, to somewhere in the neighborhood of 180-200, housing a possible population of as many as 350-400 campers.

Fast forward to the beginning of October, and guess what? The mayor wants to evict these people, but some of them now have lawyers, and those lawyers are using the mayors own arguments against him. However, it’s not as simple as it sounds because the native band that originally came to the aid of the campers has now withdrawn their support, and more or less said that the city will do whatever is “best” for the people in the park. If you were completely filled in on all the details of why the band pulled their support in the first place (of course money was involved among other things), you would understand that their concern that the people in the park receive whatever is “best” for them, lacks a certain amount of sincerity. For more detailed information, you can always check here, or here, or even here.

Of course, the public discussion is now in full swing, and I’m happy to note a fair amount of support for the campers who are trying to hold out against the city’s so-called “offer” which involves putting them in shelters-which can translate as mats on a floor in a gymnasium-since they find living in tents to be preferable to this, and when I see that many of the campers are quite elderly, I can’t help but agree. One of the things that does get through my normally calm and relaxed personality is when I read the negative comments after the news articles (which are unfortunately the majority) and almost without exception the writers use the excuse that the campers should be cleared out so that the park can once again be used and enjoyed by everyone.

Kitchen at Tent City in Vancouver, 2014
A kitchen area set up in Tent City at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, 2014.

The fact is, and I`ve lived in this neighborhood for over thirty years, so I do know what I`m saying, the park in question, Oppenheimer Park, is in the Skid Row area of town, and 90% or more of the people who use that facility ever, are the same people that are now camping in it. No parent is going to let his or her children play on a field that is littered with both needles and used condoms. The main difference between regular times in the park and now, are the tents. When there`s no tents, the people are sleeping on the benches, or on the grass. At least the way things are now, they have some shelter, and some privacy, and even though it`s not very secure, at least they have someplace to put the few things they do own.

One of the last jobs I ever worked at was in an emergency shelter, and these places here in Vancouver do a wonderful, and necessary job. But these are temporary, stop-gap measures, and they`re not meant to be permanent solutions. When the mayor says he has beds for these people in shelters, he`s just admitting he has no solution to their problem. Hell, these guys know more about the shelter system than Gregor Robertson will ever know. If he knew as much as they do, he would realize how silly he sounds offering shelter beds up like they`re the answer to something. Most shelters will only let a client stay a few weeks until they get a welfare cheque, which they are then supposed to use to get a permanent residence. But if there are no places available that can be afforded on welfare rates, then there`s nothing that person can do. No, Mr. Mayor, these people need affordable housing, not temporary shelters, and if the housing isn`t going to be ready until Spring, or later, than maybe we should all just get used to seeing Oppenheimer looking a little more colorful than usual. Until next time…

Tent City in Vancouver, 2014
Part of the Vancouver Tent City, 2014. At one point there were over 180 tents in Oppenheimer Park.
Tent City in Vancouver, 2014
Part of the Vancouver Tent City, 2014. At one point there were over 180 tents in Oppenheimer Park.

Vancouver Tent City, 2014

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