British Columbia

'We stand in solidarity': Powell Street Festival moves from Oppenheimer Park due to homeless camp

The Powell Street Festival has celebrated Japanese-Canadian art and culture every year at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver for over four decades.

Japanese festival organizers say they won't displace large homeless population

In the past two months, as many as 110 tents have been onsite daily at Oppenheimer Park, according to Howard Normann, director of parks with the Vancouver Park Board. (CBC)

The Powell Street Festival has celebrated Japanese-Canadian art and culture every year at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver for over four decades.

But this year, festival organizers say it must move, because the homeless camp at the park has gotten too large with as many as 110 tents onsite every day.

Organizers say they do not want the festival to displace anyone. 

Instead, the festival will take place on neighbouring Alexander Street, between Dunlevy and Jackson avenues on the Downtown Eastside.

Emiko Morita, executive director of the Powell Street Festival, says the decision to move was not a difficult one. 

"It was unanimous," Morita told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition.

For Japanese festival organizers, she says the decision was very personal.

"Our history includes the narrative of being displaced."

Oppenheimer's history

In 1942, following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbour, over 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were forcibly removed from their properties in the Powell Street neighbourhood by the federal government. Their belongings and homes were taken and sold to fund the incarceration of Japanese-Canadians in internment camps in the B.C. Interior. 

"We stand in solidarity with people who are hard to house, who are impoverished and in our neighborhood ... the Downtown Eastside."

About 50 people stayed overnight in tents at Oppenheimer Park throughout the winter. (CBC)

Oppenheimer Park is where the legendary Asahi baseball players competed prior to the forced removal of Japanese-Canadians in 1942. At that time, people from all over the Lower Mainland would come to watch, contributing to a burgeoning Japanese community in that section of the city. 

"It's hugely significant. We're deeply connected to that neighborhood," said Morita. 

Morita says the people in Oppenheimer Park are in need of housing, and the city, community and province should work to address that.

'It's challenging for everybody'

Howard Normann, director of parks with the Vancouver Park Board, says the homeless population is particularly challenging at Oppenheimer Park. 

"That park is a busy park for the community and there's not that many parks in that area," said Normann. 

Normann says at the moment, the city is not asking anyone in the park to leave.

"I'm not going to say it's a city sanctioned camp. I'm saying we're allowing it to happen at this time because of the amount of campers that are there."

A small team with the nearby Carnegie Community Centre regularly visits Oppenheimer Park to help campers find housing and aid through various programs. 

"I think that we'll continue to work with the province to try to find housing. But it's challenging for everybody," Normann said.

Listen to both interviews here:

With files from The Early Edition

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