Sugar Mountain tent city residents wait for housing as temperature drops
Modular housing is planned for their site, but city says current focus is getting people to move to shelters.
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People who have been living in a tent city in East Vancouver for the past four months say the city has turned off their water and they’ve been left with no way to cook food following the confiscation of a barbecue and propane on Nov. 7.
And while the city announced the tent city site at 1141 Franklin St. will likely be a location for a temporary modular housing building, residents said they have yet to receive any information about that plan.
“I understand it’s the job of the fire department to make sure people aren’t burned alive in the tent city, but these are grown adults,” said JJ Reich, a member of the activist group Alliance Against Displacement, which has been supporting the camp.
“If you have a private residence, if those people (in a nearby condo) have a barbecue on their balcony, what’s the difference?”
City communications staff denied water had been cut off to the camp, but said a worker would be sent to check. Since the site will have to be rezoned from industrial to “general urban” use, the city's emphasis right now is on encouraging residents to go to emergency shelters.
Jonathan Gormick, a spokesperson for Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service, said propane and stoves were removed after repeated warnings and for the residents’ own safety. The threat of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning is real: a woman living in a tent in Chilliwack was badly burned this week when her tent caught fire from the candles she was using to keep warm.
Gormick said firefighters have been checking the camp often, and do have empathy for the homeless people who live there.
“They look for things like the issue that came up the other day — emission sources in tents, fuel-powered appliances in tents, and also to make sure that the tents are adequately spaced, both to prevent spread of fire and to ensure there is a means of exit.”
Ward Ferguson has lived at Sugar Mountain for four months. Before that, he set up his tent every night at Oppenheimer Park, and had to pack up all his stuff every morning.
Compared to Oppenheimer Park, Sugar Mountain is safer, Ferguson said. “I don’t have stuff going missing every day, the city’s not grabbing my stuff before I can pack it up.
“I can’t do the shelters. I’m really claustrophobic.”
Ferguson said he would like to live in a modular housing unit, but he assumed it would be many months before the one suggested for the Franklin Street site is completed.
The City of Vancouver opened the first modular housing building at Main and Terminal last February as a pilot. Modular buildings, normally used to quickly erect work camps for industries like oil and gas, are quick and relatively inexpensive to build.
After lobbying from the City of Vancouver, the province committed funding for 600 modular apartments for Vancouver, and 2,000 throughout British Columbia.