Protesters evicted from Downtown Eastside park evict the city right back over aboriginal land claims

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Protesters camped out at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park are refusing to leave, and instead are occupying the space, backed by claims it is their right since the park is First Nations land. The group’s goal is to draw attention to and resolve homelessness in the city.

Twice since the makeshift camp was established late last week, homeless dwellers set up in tents have been handed 24-hour eviction notices from the City of Vancouver, however the camp has remained in place.

Police officers City orders Oppenheimer Park campers to leave; VPD to ‘monitor’ the si… https://t.co/TrEl3I289O pic.twitter.com/EnYrZJ2aDI

— BC Referrals (@BCReferrals) July 21, 2014

In retort, a coalition of participants and supporters are turning the tables on the city, and are essentially trying to evict Vancouver from Oppenheimer Park. Protesters issued a release on Sunday:

Homeless Tenters, First Nations Leaders from the Downtown Eastside, Coast Salish Territories & their supporters intend to defy an eviction notice given to the homeless in Oppenheimer Park on Sunday, July 20th at 7am. This land is still First Nations land and under treaty negotiation and until that’s settled, people camping there can stay as long as they need, during the housing crisis created by the 3 levels of Colonial Governments.

“Before this was the City of Vancouver, this was​ Musqueam land. It still is,” Audrey Siegl, of the Musqueam Nation told the CBC.

To show solidarity, a volunteer group has also set up camp in the park, which includes a “tipi and a longhouse made of evergreen branches.”

The First Nations groups are leaning on the law of Aboriginal Title as established by the Supreme Court of Canada in Tsilhqot’in v British Columbia. Ultimately, the City of Vancouver considers the land “unceded,” which renders it out of their jurisdiction.

For their part, the City has remained largely quiet since being told they are not welcome to lay down the law in Oppenheimer Park. Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang told the Sun his office is “working on dealing with the people in the camp,” and wants to get those considered homeless into appropriate housing.

 

We have reached out to the City of Vancouver to find out what, if any, response they have to the First Nations’ claim at the park, and what they intend to do regarding the encampment and protest.

UPDATE: The City has provided the following statement on the current standoff in Oppenheimer Park:

Oppenheimer Park is the backyard of people in the downtown eastside, a popular gathering place for play and relaxation. We need to keep it open for everyone.

We have given notice to people camping in Oppenheimer Park to remove their tents and other structures. Camping is not allowed and neither is creating structures in parks because these create barriers for other residents who want to use and enjoy the park space and can also cause safety concerns.

We can help people pack up and re-locate their belongings if they need help.

We are aware that a number of people who are camping in the Park are homeless and we are working closely with BC Housing to open temporary shelter for those who are homeless at Evelyn Saller Centre, 320 Alexander St. Hot showers, food and laundry will be available.

The City has clearly documented and is very concerned about the disproportionate numbers of First Nations peoples who are homeless in the city. Council has worked on significantly enhancing the City’s relationship with the three host First Nations – the Musqueam, Tseil-Waututh, and the Squamish Nations – whose Councils meet with Vancouver City Council regularly and together discuss critical public policy issues including the issue of housing for First Nations.

We also know that amongst the group at Oppenheimer the majority of individuals are housed but have issues with the SRO’s they are living in. These issues are real and the Downtown Eastside Plan recently approved by Council has a major focus on refurbishing or replacing the SROs as well as keeping the units affordable to our low income residents. This will take time but the City is working hard with other partners on this issue.

In the meantime the City is working with BC Housing to find housing or ongoing shelter for those who have been identified as street homeless.

This activity has been laid out in the report to Council last week which focused on a number of actions which are required for us to end street homelessness in the near term. The key actions include:

· Ensuring that the three new supportive housing sites which are coming on stream in the next few months through the partnership between the City and BC Housing are finished and tenanted on time – about 308 more units could be available for those who are homeless;

· The City, the Province and Vancouver Coastal need to work together to ensure that the 100 units at the Bosman Hotel remain funded and available for the next 2-3 years as interim housing for homeless individuals – the owner is willing and supportive of this; the Bosman is ideally situated right across the street from a primary care centre run by Vancouver Coastal;

·There need to be a minimum of 160 winter response shelter beds made available for late November through May to meet the needs of our homeless individuals;

· The Province has been asked for a minimum of 100 new rent supplements to allow our homeless individuals to access some of the refurbished SRO’s where the rent has become too high for those on the shelter rate;

In the meantime the City supports the right to gather and carry out peaceful protest however, our Parks are there for the enjoyment of everyone and we are requesting that the structures be removed from Oppenheimer Park.

Featured image: @TristanMarkle

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Lindsay William-Ross Lindsay is a Senior Editor at Vancity Buzz, and currently runs the site's Food section. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she spent the last two decades in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her MA, attended culinary school, and was an English professor (among other things). Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancitybuzz.com
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