An Elder was refused entry to the CRAB Park tent city on March 25 to give medicine to a resident who was sick inside the encampment. Photos by Amy Romer

On Monday morning, Vancouver Park Board employees erected a blue fence around a homeless encampment in CRAB Park — separating residents from their shelters and belongings.

As park rangers and police began preparing the site to be cleared, residents of the camp on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səlilwətaɬ territories watched from outside the newly constructed barrier.

“Why can’t this man go in to get his belongings for his job interview?” one camp resident asked park employees, who gave no response.

The man missed his job interview after not being allowed to access his tent.

The eviction is being called a temporary “clean up” by the City of Vancouver, which says workers are moving in for one week of work to remove “non-compliant and unsafe” structures before allowing residents to return with temporary tent shelters in early April. 

The encampment has been at CRAB Park since May 2021 and shelters at least 30 full-time residents, many of whom are Indigenous. Residents were asked to leave the tent city by end of day Sunday, but by Monday lunchtime, six residents were still located inside the encampment.

An Elder from Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation sat patiently waiting to offer medicine to a resident who, according to Muskikiway (Lynn Johnson), was sick and still in her tent. The Vancouver Police Department and Park Board refused to allow the Elder into the encampment to see her. 

Park Rangers obstruct CRAB Park residents from entering the tent city where their shelters and belongings will soon be removed.

“People working in public service should be enabling us to give medicine to our people, not obstructing us with weapons,” said Robert Baker, another Sḵwx̱wú7mesh member. “I don’t know why you’re slowing us down and stopping us from performing ceremonies for our loved ones.” 

Despite what the Park Board has said about temporary shelters, residents are skeptical they will be allowed to return to the tent city.

 “We know very well the park rangers aren’t going to allow them back in there,” said Muskikiway, who is Anishinaabe, has been protecting “Vancouver’s” tent cities on behalf of the host nations for six years.

Muskikiway (Lynn Johnson) drummed throughout the morning outside the encampment.

Stop the Sweeps is in agreement. The group, which opposes the displacement of unhoused people from public spaces in “Vancouver” obtained emails through a freedom of information request between ABC Councillors, ABC Park Board commissioners, and the Gastown Residents’ Association (GRA) that show the Park Board commissioner and members “assured” the GRA they would “clear” CRAB Park, despite existing legal protections. 

According to the email, dated January 18, CRAB Park residents and advocates have attempted to build tiny homes in the park, which was blocked by park rangers, who noted the issue “is clearly escalating.”

In a March 12 written statement, the First Nations Leadership Council condemned the Vancouver Park Board.

“This move by the Vancouver Park Board is none other than a forced eviction and is a blatant disregard of human rights exposing a distinct lack of empathy and compassion for the dehoused.” 

Since 2021, the Park Board has been evicting residents from CRAB Park. This is despite a 2022 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that denied an injunction that would allow the Park Board to evict residents.

“Without readily available housing alternatives, confiscating the structures that have been put together by park residents is totally unacceptable,” the written statement continues.

Many of the structures and belongings are donations from the community. According to longtime advocate Fiona York, once all residents are removed, the tent city will likely be “torn apart and bulldozed.” 

The City of Vancouver says there’s a “significant amount of debris and garbage” at the site as well as “non-compliant materials, propane tanks, rats, needles and feces.” But York said there is no problem beyond what you’d expect in a city. 

“There was a small amount of dog feces, just as you’d expect in any downtown park,” she said.

Fiona York speaks to media outside the tent city on March 25. York, an advocate who helps organize donations for residents, was banned from CRAB Park for six months following the June 2021 evictions.

The Park Board and the city are asking residents to relocate to smaller tents provided by the Park Board, adjacent to their encampment. At the time of reporting, less than a dozen Park Board tents were erected, some of which were surrounded by fencing, or “pens” as they were being described.

“We begged them not to do the pens.” said Muskikiway, who says the structures are meant to encourage residents to “stay within their limits.” 

“You can’t pen people. You can’t cage them,” she said. “But that’s their solution.”

Individually fenced tents are being described as “pens” that are “not watertight.”

Hugh Braker from the First Nations Summit Political Executive said forced evictions of encampments such as the one in CRAB Park perpetuate harm for many Indigenous people.

“We need to focus on increasing the availability of safe, accessible, and supportive housing for all instead of these militarized and draconian approaches to homelessness,” he said. 

“Forced evictions of encampments further perpetuate the trauma and harm that many of our relatives endured in the residential school system and in the child welfare system.” 

The City of Vancouver said in a statement that the cleanup process comes after four weeks of consultations, discussions and support to move people into a temporary sheltering area.

“This is not a decampment,” the statement said.

“The safety of those sheltering in the park, our staff, and the public remain our priority, and we are committed to working with the community to address issues that impact the health and safety of those sheltering in the park.”

Residents said not enough consultation was had and that the “clean-up” notice came as a shock. 

IndigiNews requested comment from the Park Board, but did not receive a response before the time of publishing. And of the dozens of Park Board staff at CRAB Park at the time of reporting, none were able to speak to media. 

CRAB Park resident David Bradbury, aka “The Cook”, was moving kitchen equipment from the tent city to the new designated camping area. He says he’s been cooking for residents every day for two years through donations and a small budget. He wants to thank xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and səlilwətaɬ for the land he’s been residing on, and for the opportunity to cook for everyone. “Nothing will stop me cooking here for these people,” he said.

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