British Columbia·Photos

Former Oppenheimer Park resident gets housing — and goes back to pay tribute

Stephen James Robinson, a.k.a. “Red” Robinson, thanks his lucky stars to have received housing after living in a homeless camp in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park for several months.
Stephen James Robinson, a.k.a. 'Red' Robinson, looks out at the view from his new apartment.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Stephen "Red" Robinson hasn't stopped enjoying the simple things in life — like electricity and running water — since making his way into supportive housing.

"The first thing I did when I came in here was [to] have a shower, and it was two hours long," he told CBC News.

"And it was awesome."

Red’s new bachelor suite has a full bathroom, kitchen, and a view of East Vancouver. The unit costs him $375 a month, which he pays with disability funds.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Red spent the summer living in Oppenheimer Park amid hundreds of homeless residents in the area. Despite efforts by the province and the city to house campers, many remain.

As temperatures drop over the holidays, Red considers himself one of the lucky ones. Now realizing firsthand how important it is to have safe and reliable shelter, he's calling on all levels of government to do more for people living on the streets.

"There's better things to do than be surviving every day. There's way better things to do," he said.

Stephen "Red" Robinson adjusts to new home

3 years ago
Duration 0:50
Robinson spent years living on the streets of Vancouver

According to the City of Vancouver's Homelessness Services Director, Celine Mauboules, there are more homeless residents in the city than have ever been recorded in the past. Oppenheimer Park continues to be a major safety concern.

"The city continues to have serious concerns about people's safety, the proximity of the tents to one another, and obviously as the weather gets colder people are using various heating devices that are a safety risk," Mauboules said.

The city is looking at ways to build more shelters and supportive housing, while the province says it plans to build more than 4,700 units of supportive housing over 10 years for people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. 

But for many, those units can't come soon enough. Thousands of people are in line for supportive and affordable housing.

Before being housed, Red was living in the homeless camp in Oppenheimer Park as one of tens of thousands of people in B.C. who are in line for social housing. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Red says getting off the streets was one of the hardest things he's ever done. He worked alongside outreach workers from programs like Carnegie Outreach and New Fountain Shelter. He collected reference letters, filled out forms, and asked for support from anyone in a position to help. 

Eventually, an outreach worker from New Fountain Shelter introduced Red to an empty rental unit at a recently developed low-barrier housing building. 

"It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, I was walking around like I was on a cloud," he said. 

A collapsed tent in the homeless camp at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park on Wednesday, December 18, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Red's new home

Soon after moving in, Red says he got very sick for a long time. He thinks his body went into a state of shock and then recovery when it suddenly had a warm, safe, and clean home. 

He says he wakes up every day thanking his lucky stars to have a safe and clean home. He vows he will never end up without housing again. 

The first time Red looked out the window of his new apartment, he noticed a serendipitous sign in the distance that read 'YOU MADE IT.' (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
The move from Oppenheimer to the apartment was not easy for Red. He didn’t have a truck, it was raining the entire time, and a lot of his possessions were stolen during the process.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
In accordance with the building’s rules, Red had to clean all fabrics and furniture to avoid bringing dirt or bed bugs into the building. This was welcome news to Red, who refused to live in several potential SRO housing units over the years due to lack of cleanliness and upkeep.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Along with being able to take a shower whenever he wants and for as long as he wants, Red lists the other things that make his life so much better than it was when he was in the park: a lock on the door, electricity, a fridge, and a stove.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
A plastic rose sits on Red’s stove.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Spreading Christmas cheer

This change in lifestyle, however, hasn't stopped Red from visiting the park from time to time to clean up the area where his tent used to be. 

Just days before Christmas, Red decided to go back and spread some holiday cheer. 

"I wanted to do something nice for the park. It's dark and dreary," he said, equipped with decorations from the dollar store.

He begins by cutting a white tarp to lay it around the base of one of the park trees.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Next, Red tapes a holiday gift bag to a sign. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Red keeps an eye on all the decorations as he goes, having sharp words with anyone who tries to take something of his that lies unattended. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Red wraps the tree trunk in tinsel.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
As a final touch, Red hangs battery powered Christmas lights at the top of the sign and then places a bow and tinsel underneath. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Red says there are better things to do than surviving every day, things like trying to give back to the only home he could find this past summer.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)
Red says that he wakes up every day thanking his lucky stars to have a safe and clean home. He vows he will never end up without housing again.  (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?