British Columbia

Oppenheimer Park campers decry lack of information as rumours of eviction swirl

Residents of Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park, a tent city in the Downtown Eastside, say they are frustrated and anxious about rumours of a pending eviction and decry a lack of transparency from city officials.

B.C. Housing is promising 100 new units, but tent city dwellers say that's not enough for everyone

There are around 240 residents in 200 tents pitched in the park, located between Powell and Cordova streets, two blocks east of Main Street in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Residents of Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park, a tent city in the Downtown Eastside, say they're frustrated and anxious about rumours of a pending eviction and are decrying a lack of transparency from city officials.

There are about 240 people living in 200 tents pitched in the park, located between Powell and Cordova streets, two blocks east of Main Street.

Jason Hebert has been living in the park for the past five months.

He said for six years before that he spent his days cruising from park to park, packing up his life on a daily basis.

"Oppenheimer, this is saving my biscuit," he said.

"I'm able to do things like work like normal people instead of babysitting a shopping cart with my tent and all my belongings."

Hebert said residents of the park fear that could all come to an end if residents are sent packing.

100 new units made available

An email from a city official sent to CBC appears to reference a looming eviction on August 19.

CBC has not independently confirmed that the city intends to go forward with that plan. On Friday the city declined to comment on internal ministry communications.

But in a written statement, B.C. Housing said that they, along with the city, have been "taking stock of vacancies within existing supportive housing buildings and shelters nearby Oppenheimer Park, and have been expediting renovations on a number of vacant units in need of repair."

A bike and other possessions belonging to the residents of Oppenheimer Park’s tent city sit are scattered throughout the park in Vancouver on Thursday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The statement says outreach workers are making offers to people camping at the park "from a stock of over 100 available units."

But Sandy Parisien, who says he's been trying to get housing for 14 months, said residents are frustrated that this is the first they've learned about the new units.

"Nobody knows what anyone else is doing and nobody is communicating with us at all. Why can't they come down and talk to us personally?" he said.

"There are over 240 people here — they're going to vacate us but only 100 are going to get rooms?"

The number of tents in the park has doubled since July. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Chrissy Brett, who works as a liaison for the tent city and helps run an overdose prevention tent in the park, said the lack of transparency and communication has created fear that people who have been near the top of the wait list for housing for months may be bumped down.

"There needs to be true community consultations. The municipal and provincial governments need to come and talk to people here," she said.

"How exactly is it that the government is creating housing lists without talking to the people who are here?"

Brett said that while no one should have to live in a tent city, the community at the park creates a sense of security and is safer than squatting in parking garages or camping alone.

 "It gives people stability, it gives people the ability to not have to worry about the day-to-day problems of having to carry your entire life on your back," she said.

With Jon Hernandez

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