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Another tent city springs up in Vancouver as homeless rates rise

Tent city occupants are calling for more action from all three levels of government to end homelessness

Sarah is currently homeless and plans to stay at the new tent city at 950 Main Street.

Jen St. Denis/Metro

Sarah is currently homeless and plans to stay at the new tent city at 950 Main Street.

Just five months after the City of Vancouver closed down a tent city in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, another encampment is forming at a city-owned vacant lot at 950 Main Street.

“We’re in the midst of the worst homeless crisis that B.C. has ever experienced,” said activist Maria Wallstam to reporters this morning at the site, across from the Pacific Central Station bus terminal.

“Homeless people are dying on the street in unprecedented numbers.”

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About a dozen people had gathered, many of them from the Downtown Eastside’s activist community and organizations like the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, the Carnegie Community Action Project and anti-gentrification group Against Displacement. They called on all three levels of government to do more to end homelessness. Around 10 tents had been set up on the site.

This time around, the tent city protest will be led by women, said Simona Marsh, one of the organizers and a member of VANDU. But both women and men will be welcomed at the site.

Sarah, a young pregnant woman, said she had been evicted from the Brandiz Hotel several months ago and is currently homeless. While she has been offered housing, she refused it because the father of her baby was not allowed to stay with her, she said.

Robert Bonner points out ribbons tied to the fence during a similar protest at the same site 10 years ago. The ribbons spelled out

Jen St. Denis/Metro

Robert Bonner points out ribbons tied to the fence during a similar protest at the same site 10 years ago. The ribbons spelled out "Homes For All."

Several Vancouver police officers as well as city communications staffer Tobin Postma were present and speaking with several of the organizers. Postma said the city is trying to determine how many of those present are actually homeless and how many are activists, but declined to comment further.

The city has seen a number of tent city protests in the past few years, most recently Oppenheimer Park in 2014 and 58 West Hastings in 2010 and again in 2016.

The Oppenheimer Park and 58 West Hastings tent cities operated for several months before the city shut them down, saying health and safety conditions had deteriorated.

Following the Oppenheimer tent city, the city found temporary housing for several of the residents; some of those people have moved into permanent housing since that time. The tent city at 58 West Hastings in 2016 yielded a meeting with Mayor Gregor Robertson and a promise to build a social housing building with all units to be rented at welfare rates, although activists recently called that 100 per cent social housing promise into question.

The site at 950 Main Street was also the site of a previous tent city 10 years ago. Robert Bonner, who participated in that 2007 protest, showed reporters a remnant of the decade-old occupation: ribbons tied to the chain link fence spelling out “Homes For All.”

Homelessness has been increasing across Metro Vancouver, with 3,600 people counted as homeless in this year’s regional homeless count, a 30 per cent increase from 2014. Tent cities, not as a form of protest but as housing, have also increased to over 70 sites across the Lower Mainland, according to the Metro Vancouver Regional District. The regional district estimates that every week, five people lose their housing and fall into homelessness.

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