British Columbia

Housing rules for the homeless unfair, says Oppenheimer Park resident

Rachel Nielsen said she may take a single room occupancy unit if she’s offered one but is skeptical about them, because, she says, there are too many rules placed on the occupants.

‘You have to follow rules that aren’t right,’ says Rachel Nielsen

Rachel Nielsen pictured in her tent at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Rachel Nielsen is packing and cleaning her tent in preparation for Wednesday's eviction notice given to Oppenheimer Park campers by the City of Vancouver. 

Nielsen, who has been homeless for most of her life, is one of approximately 240 campers in the park.  The City of Vancouver says 100 beds in temporary modular buildings and SROs will be available for these campers on the Downtown Eastside.

Nielsen, 42, said she may take a single room occupancy unit if she's offered one but is skeptical about them, because she says there are too many rules placed on the occupants. 

"You have to follow rules that aren't right," Nielsen said outside of her tent.

She said regulations around having guest visits and curfew times are unfair for SRO occupants because people living in regular apartment buildings wouldn't be asked to obey the same rules.

The Carnegie Community Action Project's Fiona York says some SROs don't always follow the Residential Tenancy Act and have additional rules that occupants must obey. (CBC News)

Carnegie Community Action Project co-ordinator Fiona York said many times SROs may not follow the Residential Tenancy Act and could have additional polices that occupants have to comply with before they sign an agreement for a unit. 

York said because of the short time window between when the park residents were given eviction notices on Monday and when they're meant to clear out on Wednesday, residents might be rushed and could sign their rights away.

Rachel Nielsen says the rules implemented at single room occupancy housing units are against human rights. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But, it's not just about the rules. Nielsen also said she prefers to live outside because it's healthier.

"In most of the buildings downtown. there's black mould and asbestos, and most of the workers have to wear masks but we don't. It makes no sense," she said. 

'Housing for everybody'

Deputy city manager Paul Mochrie says those who will be moved to the available housing options have been in contact with the city's Carnegie Outreach Program at the park and have expressed interest in relocating to housing. But outreach workers will continue to try to connect with remaining campers. 

'We are optimistic that we're going to be able to find housing for everybody," Mochrie told Stephen Quinn, host of CBCsThe Early Edition.

"If there are people who come forward that we have not connected with to date, we do have some access to additional shelter capacity."

Vancouver fire and park board officials remove mattresses while checking on vacant tents at Oppenheimer Park on Aug. 20, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Mochrie says city and B.C. Housing employees will be on site all day Wednesday to help people transition to housing. 

He says they will attempt to work with those that don't comply and move from Oppenheimer Park by the 6 p.m. deadline.

He says the order ⁠— issued Monday by the park board's general manager ⁠— to remove tents will not be enforced by police making arrests or forcibly removing people from the park.

With files from Ashley Moliere, Andrea Ross & The Early Edition

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