On a cold wet morning, Chrissy Brett struggles to make a fire while holding her dog Taco in Oppeheimer Park on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
This is her only source of heat for now – except the damp wood kills the flames.
“We tried to have a conversation with the fire department this morning about safe ways to heat people like forced air propane heat for the warming tent but they’ve said so far they said there is no safe way to heat any of these tents,” says Brett.
A tent in the park recently went up in flames and a propane tank was found.
Camil Dumont is a commissioner at the city’s park’s board.
He says they’re not prepared to thrown these people to the streets but add it’s a challenging situation.
“Forcing people to leave this space does not provide a solution to the underlining issues that are here whatsoever,” says Dumont. “So I think we are concerned with the well being of the folks here I think we are obviously caught between a rock and a hard place.”
The City of Vancouver has taken a harder stance on the 200 people who are camped here and are trying to clear the park.
The city wants a court to decide by the Park’s board that has jurisdiction has resisted.
Oppenheimer Park has been a place where people on the street go for shelter.
It was supposed to be temporary – but the camps have been around for decades.
Now the city wants people out.
“It’s not appropriate the institutions of our community using their powers and their strengths to make it that much more difficult for folks who are just trying to get by,” says Dumont.
Since August, the city has found alternative living arrangements for 130 people in single room occupancy units and modular homes.
But many returned to the park saying there were issues such as pest infestations and they would rather sleep outside.
Yesterday has been living in Oppenheimer Park off and on for 18 years.
She calls the tent she lives in with her partner Gary home.
“Its survival of the fittest right? I got gloves, I got scarves, I got this you know,” she says. “You don’t think cold you think of Hawaii or something tropicana somewhere its nice and warm.”
Chris Livingstone works with numerous organizations on the front lines of the Downtown Eastside.
He says one solution would be to open the city run amenities building located in the park to keep people warm.
“We are all providing outreach into this park and what we are all saying is that we can collectively provide services in this place and where it would be safe,” says Livingstone.
“So the city’s concerns are that its unsafe for workers to be in here and its considered for police to be in here so what we are saying is we are already here and we are not leaving.”
The site is become more permanent as time goes on.
There is now an overdose prevention site open around the clock in the park.
In the mean time, Chrissy Brett is trying to find a solution to heating the tens.
“To me its really discouraging to that there isn’t more support from all levels of government to ensure that citizens are not seen as human beings that people are being seen as less then that,” she says. “Oppenheimer is the reason for all of the gang stuff going the Downtown Eastside and not really acknowledging that we are in the middle of a drug crisis and I think these are the places that in the states and elsewhere that have talked about it not just being a homeless crisis but a drug crisis.”
The Vancouver Park Board met recently and voted to bring in a third party consultant to assess the situation.
But they say people in the park must approve of alternate accomodations proposed and must adhere to the principals of Indigenous reconciliation.
The City of Vancouver did not respond to calls before this story was published.