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Letter to Mayor Stewart re: Displacement of people from Oppenheimer Park

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Kennedy Stewart, Mayor

3rd Floor, City Hall
453 West 12th Ave
Vancouver, BC V5Y 1V4

August 26, 2019

Re: Displacement of people from Oppenheimer Park

Dear Mayor Stewart,

I am writing to express my deep concern about the way the City of Vancouver is treating people currently living in Oppenheimer Park on the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the səl̓ílwətaʔɬ /Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. I agree with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, that moving them is “callous and insensitive.”

I understand that the City is currently attempting to move people from their tents to what officials are describing as “safe and secure units.” However, these units are in SROs and in shelters so most are far from being “safe and secure.” The City does not have strong residential bylaws and fails to enforce those bylaws that it has so many SROs are in a severe state of disrepair and remain uninhabitable. A unit with rats, bedbugs and cockroaches, and doors that don’t close and lock, in a building with unusable shared washrooms rife with violence and sexual violence is not “safe and secure.” Neither is a bed in a shelter, where people most often have to leave during the day and wander the streets until it opens again at night. I think any one of us would choose a tent as the most “safe and secure” place in the face of these options. I certainly would after living with the stress of bedbugs on my family a couple of years ago.

As Leilani Farha, the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing has said in response to this situation, “[i]n order for the City’s actions to be compliant with human rights, the residents of Oppenheimer Park need to be meaningfully consulted and included in the development of any plans related to their living situations.” So far this has not happened. Instead, last Friday, fences were bring brought in to the park to protect the grass and people were being encouraged to move to the perimeter of the park. A compromise was achieved with pylons and tape replacing the fences and these were also later removed. However, the notice at the Park continues to highlight the health of the grass. Why are you prioritizing the health of the grass over the health of the people living there?

Your government has a responsibility to uphold Article 11(1) of the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:

“the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”

As Grand Chief Phillip says, the “City of Vancouver stands to violate the basic rights of Indigenous peoples articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, as well as blatantly ignore the call for safe housing that is appropriate to the cultural and economic needs of Indigenous peoples set out in the National Inquiry’s Calls for Justice.” The City of Vancouver, as well as the provincial and federal governments, are failing to uphold these basic rights and those most marginalized are living with the daily consequences.

Please support the tent city at Oppenheimer Park until adequate housing can be provided for all. This includes not fencing the park off, ensuring the washrooms remain open and clean, supporting the overdose prevention site, providing water and food (to uphold your responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food), and implementing a cooling/warming station as necessary in the upcoming weather.

I further support Our Homes Can’t Wait and Oppenheimer Park advocates in their demands that the City of Vancouver, provincial and federal governments, and Parks Board:

  • Build modular housing and new housing that actually addresses the homelessness crisis
  • Ensure all housing provided is protected by the Residential Tenancy Act
  • Clearly indicate the name and location of places people can go if evicted and no housing has been provided to them
  • Acknowledge that these actions are taking place on unceded Indigenous territories

I would appreciate your serious consideration of the needs and humanity of the people living in Oppenheimer Park, and I look forward to hearing from you in relation to this matter.

Sincerely,

Trish Garner,

Community Organizer,

BC Poverty Reduction Coalition

Cc: Senior City staff, Parks Board, Police Chief, Fire Chief, provincial and federal government representatives