British Columbia

Vancouver tent city arises where another stood 10 years ago

The city-owned lot at 950 Main Street was home to a previous tent city in 2007. Organizers of the new one say in those 10 years homelessness has only gotten worse, so they're returning.

City says campers have been told to leave but have not been forcibly removed

Homeless people and advocates set up the "Ten Year Tent City" Friday morning on the same vacant city-owned lot another tent city stood in 2007. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Vancouver homeless people and advocates erected a tent city Friday on the same vacant city-owned lot another stood 10 years ago.

Activists called the camp at 950 Main Street the "Ten Year Tent City" in response to the homelessness crisis getting worse, not better, since the first tent city.

"This lot is still empty and the homelessness crisis is still going on," Maria Wallstam, a speaker for the Alliance Against Displacement said.

"Homeless people are dying on the street at an unprecedented rate. These tent cities are spaces of survival for people that don't have access to basic housing."

A frame for a kitchen is set up at the "Ten Year Tent City" at 950 Main Street in Vancouver. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Organizers say they started the tent city during the provincial election to draw the parties' attention to the issue of homelessness, which they say has been ignored.

They say they want those parties to commit to building 10,000 units of social housing each year.

'It's very disheartening'

On Friday morning, organizers and residents were setting up about 10 tents along with a kitchen structure made of lumber and tarps.

Some were painting over graffiti in preparation for a mural and others were painting protest signs.

Graffiti is painted over to prepare for the creation of a mural at the tent city. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Robert Bonner, one of the organizers of the first tent city, pointed to a collection of ribbons tied to a chain-link fence that once spelled out "Homes for all."

He said those ribbons were hung during the first tent city and little has changed since.

"It makes me really angry, especially when you have people dying at an alarming rate," he said "And for no reason other than they have nowhere to live … it's very disheartening."

Robert Bonner stands in front of the chain-link fence where a message calling for more housing was spelled out in ribbons 10 years ago. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

Bonner says the difficulty of accessing services for homeless people makes working difficult: "It's awfully hard to be productive … when you gotta line up at three o'clock in the afternoon for your nightly meal."

Others stressed the conditions of shelters are inadequate, including one homeless woman who says she is pregnant and can't find a shelter that will allow visits from the baby's father.

Officials say they will monitor

Organizers say they plan to stay where they are until they see progress on the issue of homelessness.

They say they have volunteers trained in CPR and in the use of the anti-overdose drug narcan to keep residents safe.

Vancouver police and fire officials meet with organizers of a tent city at 950 Main Street. (Liam Britten/CBC)

They also say they plan on reducing fire risks by spacing out tents and discouraging the use of propane and open flames in tents.

Officials from both Vancouver Fire and Rescue and the Vancouver Police Department were present Friday morning. Fire officials say they will monitor the situation.

The City of Vancouver acknowledged affordable housing is a "criticial challenge" in the region in a statement but added residents of the tent city are breaking the law and have been told to leave with their belongings.

"Past protest encampments have raised serious fire concerns, as well as health and safety risks, which required considerable effort by city, fire and police resources in order to protect the safety of those within and outside of the camps," a spokesperson wrote.

The city had not forcibly removed the tenters as of Friday afternoon.

With files from Dillon Hodgin