British Columbia

Strathcona residents take to the streets calling for government help for homeless people

The goal of the demonstration is to get immediate help from all three levels of government for those living unsheltered in the area, including campers in nearby Strathcona Park, where organizers say up to 400 people need help finding housing and other supports.

The neighbourhood is home to Vancouver's largest homeless encampment

Residents in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver are calling for all three levels of government to carry out immediate and culturally sensitive consultation with the hundreds of people living unsheltered in the area. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dozens of residents took to the streets of an East Vancouver neighbourhood Tuesday morning to show their contempt for what they say is a lack of government action to help those living in the city's largest homeless encampment.

In a news release, a group of Strathcona residents said the goal of the protest, which took place along Prior Street, between Gore Avenue and Glen Drive, was to push for help from all three levels of government for those living unsheltered in the area, including hundreds of homeless campers in nearby Strathcona Park.

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During the demonstration, which occurred between approximately 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., Vancouver police arrested one person. According to police, the individual had an outstanding warrant and the arrest was not related to the street protest.

Residents who partook in the protest said they want action to improve neighbourhood safety, which the release says has been compromised by increased property crime, personal crime and public health hazards.

One person was arrested during the Tuesday morning demonstration led by people in Strathcona calling for help for Vancouver's vulnerable residents. Vancouver police say the individual had an outstanding warrant and the arrest was not related to the protest event. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We attribute these worsening conditions to government inaction and neglect in the face of urgent public health and housing crises," said a statement from Strathcona Stands for Safe Homes for All, the protest organizer.

"Our small neighbourhood — which includes two elementary schools and numerous senior care homes — is disproportionately impacted by these crises, and our elected officials have taken no concrete action to help us, despite our repeated pleas," the statement added.

Crime concerns

Chris May, one of the group's organizers, told CBC News on Tuesday that residents are experiencing an uptick in petty crimes such as theft from gardens. He said two garages in the lane behind his home were recently lit on fire and some residents recently witnessed a man chasing people with a chainsaw.

May also said the recent discovery of a loaded assault-style rifle in an alley near Prior Street and Heatley Avenue, not far from the west side of Strathcona Park, was alarming for locals.

Protesters cross Prior Street in Strathcona on Tuesday morning. 'The frustration is overwhelming at our elected officials,' said Chris May, one of the demonstration's organizers. 'It's absolutely shameful and we are done as a community.' (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He said blame cannot necessarily be laid on those living in the park, but the streets of Strathcona have increasingly become a place for nefarious activity.

"The frustration is overwhelming at our elected officials," said May. "It's absolutely shameful and we are done as a community."

He said he wants to see the city and province come up with a plan to help the park campers and the federal government to then finance that plan.

Over 2,000 Vancouver residents have signed a petition saying they will not pay property taxes to the city until something is done to help those living in the Strathcona Park homeless camp. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Withholding property tax

The group's release said over 2,000 residents have signed a petition saying they will withhold their property tax payments, due Sept. 30, because of the city's lack of action to deal with the camp and the ripple effects that is having on the surrounding area.

On Sept. 14, Vancouver city council voted to approve a motion from Mayor Kennedy Stewart to have city staff investigate the feasibility of a handful of options to help deal with the Strathcona Park encampment. City staff are due to report back to council on Oct. 2.

A person stands outside a tent at the Strathcona Park homeless camp on Sept. 29. Over 300 tents were erected at the site this summer. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The statement from the Strathcona residents says they will not accept waiting until that feasibility study is done as an excuse for inaction now.

And it's not just mayor and council whose feet the group is holding to the fire.

"We want to see representatives of all three levels of government present in Strathcona Park, speaking to campers, and assessing their diverse needs in order to pursue sustainable housing solutions," the group stated.

The group said it has chosen their location to gather on Tuesday morning because of its proximity to railroad tracks to get federal government attention.

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