Strathcona school erects more fencing as safety concerns mount in Vancouver neighbourhood
City council considers emergency relief as residents demand action
An elementary school near a growing homeless encampment in East Vancouver is ramping up security as the community grapples with an uptick of crime, garbage and violent incidents.
Strathcona Elementary is adding more fencing and gates to its perimeter. The move comes after a tent city has emerged in Strathcona Park that has drawn hundreds of homeless residents from across Vancouver.
In a letter to parents, school principal Jason Eng said changes within the community over the past several months have had "a significant impact on the safety, security, and cleanliness of Strathcona Elementary and Strathcona Community Centre."
More than 400 tents have now been erected inside the ten-hectare park. The Vancouver Police Department says there has been an increase in calls to the neighbourhood.
Most recently, police were called to the park after a man was found beaten and unresponsive. He had been lying there for up to 12 hours, said Const. Tania Visintin.
Last week, a loaded semi-automatic, assault-style rifle was found in a bag in a residential laneway not far from the park.
"It's hard because when we enter the park, when we do respond to calls, we are met with extreme hostility from people from the park," said Visintin. There has been an increased police presence in the neighbourhood since August.
Neighbourhood pleads for government action
Tensions have flared in the community, with many parents and longtime residents calling for action from all levels of government.
"It's very clear that campers aren't safe, residents aren't safe, and kids aren't safe", said Katie Lewis, vice-president of the Strathcona Residents Association. "We're really asking our political leaders to step up and help us in this really challenging situation."
"It's unsustainable for our community and I think that we deserve better," she added.
Vancouver city council convened an emergency meeting last week, asking staff to report on emergency relief measures as it grapples with a growing homelessness crisis. Potential solutions include purchasing more hotel space for temporary shelters or even opening a sanctioned tent city on public land.
Council is expected to meet on Oct. 2 to review the staff report.
"As caretakers and custodians of our city, we can't just not do anything," said Coun. Pete Fry.
Fry says the timing of the snap provincial election is working against the city, which typically works with the province to administer supports for homeless residents.
"That's really put the kibosh on anything really happening from a provincial level. We were hoping to see really some more assertive partnership opportunities where the province would help us out in finding some more meaningful solutions," said Fry.
Calls for consultation
Advocates says the options that the city has put on the table are problematic, largely because they only offer temporary solutions.
"There was no consultation," said Fiona York, a community advocate. "Talking with residents, they pretty much respond that permanent housing is what saves lives."
York also says there needs to be discussions with current campers when it comes to solutions like a sanctioned encampment to ensure it meets the needs of residents, many of whom are Indigenous.
In the meantime, advocates are trying to raise money for a shower trailer to improve hygiene in the camp.
"We've had so much support from the community — so much more so than the resources provided by the government."