The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority (VFPA) has filed an injunction against a tent city set up in CRAB Park by people displaced from Oppenheimer Park.
The injunction hearing will start at 9:45am June 4th, 2020 at the provincial courts at 800 Smithe St. It is expected that the hearing will only last one day. If Justice Hinckson makes a decision at the end of the day, camp residents, lawyers, and supporters will hold a press conference after the hearing. Residents and supporters of the camp, including Our Homes Can’t Wait, are calling for supporters to watch for calls for support if the court orders the displacement of the camp.
The Port Authority’s application to displace the CRAB Park tent city comes on the heels of the recent mass, rose-coloured displacement of the long standing tent city at Oppenheimer Park. While some people living at Oppenheimer tent city have found temporary, institutionalized shelter in government-commissioned hotel rooms, thousands of others languish on the streets and remain warehoused in congregate shelters in the Downtown Eastside.
Nearly 100 of these unhoused community members have set up a home without housing in the vacant, unused parking lot beside CRAB Park. The Vancouver-Fraser Port Authority, the colonial occupying force that illegally claims and manages the lands around and under CRAB Park, immediately began its application for a Supreme Court injunction to displace these unhoused people again and on Thursday June 4th, its application will be heard by a Supreme Court justice.
CRAB Park tent city residents and supporters are fighting against displacement with the support of two law-union lawyers, Amandeep Singh and Michelle Silongan. The Supreme Court justice presiding over the case is Chief Justice Christopher Hinckson, who, famously, refused to grant the Province of British Columbia a displacement injunction against “Super InTent City” on Victoria’s courthouse lawn. Hinckson later granted the Province this displacement injunction but only with the condition that the Province open new housing for the tent city occupants. The government opened nearly 200 new units of “supportive housing” in order to meet the expectations of Hinckson’s injunction order.
Brett and the residents of CRAB Park tent city are going before Chief Justice Hinckson to argue that the courts not order them displaced again; not to alleyways or shelters and not into slum housing.
CRAB park is the only option for many
The tent city at CRAB Park sprang up after the closure of Oppenheimer Park, and has grown in three weeks to more than 82 tents and 100 residents. It remains one of the few places homeless people can safely go without danger of daily street sweeps destroying or removing their belongings or being moved along each day and having to carry all their belongings — wearing down physical and emotional strength.
Sunny is one of these CRAB Park residents who is fighting displacement. Sunny was living in Oppenheimer Park off and on for years. He wasn’t there at the time that hotel rooms were being offered and found himself without a place to go after the park closed. He had spent time in shelters but found them too crowded, with little room to spread out especially during COVID. He had been visiting CRAB Park to do his morning exercises, and someone told him to come to camp at CRAB Park.
Sunny says, “I love being here. My family stops by. It has connected me with my faith and made it stronger. Everyone’s organized, friendly and peaceful. Somewhere else, you have to be on the lookout all the time. Here, it’s a family affair. It feels great — love and care. Couldn’t be a better place than here to set up.”
The tent city promotes safe distancing to combat the COVID-19 danger faced by everyone on the street with fresh air and enough room to space out. Community donations and meals mean that residents don’t have to line up twice a day for food. Outreach workers can provide services to a centralized location.
Another resident, Ryan was offered a hotel room after Oppenheimer Park but wasn’t allowed to bring his small dog, smoke in his room or have guests. Many of his friends from Oppenheimer Park didn’t get housing at all. “Shelters were unhealthy. I’m too vulnerable. I need to keep my mental health and normalcy. On the street, no one knows your name or stuff about you. Here, I have food, communication, friendship, relationships, understanding, and connection to culture. This is helping me heal as a person.”
Ryan says that if CRAB Park closed down, “I’d be lost, lonely, looking for my friends, worrying. No cell phone, no communications. Me and my dog would be walking the streets, all the shelters will be full. My dog will get sick, I will get sick. There are no resources. This place is needed.”
Fighting for unceded land, housing, and crab park
Elder and head fire-keeper at the CRAB Park tent city Veronica Butler helped fight for the establishment of CRAB Park in 1984. “I know trees here. Singapore donated trees, Japan gave trees. That little marsh gives migrating birds somewhere to rest. This to me is CRAB Park. When I was asked to start this fire, this is a place to have connection with land, with our ancestors.”
“This tent city is a place for people without energy to take their belongings without fear of it being stolen. This is the struggle. If you have spent one night on the street, you are my neighbour. And I worry about you sleeping on the sidewalk. It’s not just a CRAB Park issue, it’s an Indigenous issue. It’s clearly not just here. Out on Hastings it’s mainly Indigenous people not getting housed and on reserves being underhoused.”
Chrissy Brett, tent city liaison, says, “The Ports took over this land before confederation. We have support from local First Nations people and are in discussion with the local elected and grassroots First Nations. Living on this land does not pose a danger to residents or the public. We have ensured that the tent city has been built with fire access and egress taken into consideration. And we will ensure to set up homes in what we believe to be the safest way in unsafe and unsanitary conditions of being a displaced Indigenous person or homeless person in Canada.”
The injunction application from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority seeks to evict one hundred unhoused people from a parking lot that has gone unused for decades, citing upcoming contracts for container storage in the lot.
On Thursday June 4th, the question of whether the “balance of convenience” lies with the property rights of the Port or the health and safety interests of people recently displaced from Oppenheimer Park, now threatened with displacement all over again.
Watch for updates during the hearing at the Red Braid twitter account, @stopdisplacemnt