For Immediate Release
June 3, 2020
Unceded Squamish, Museum, and Tsleil-Waututh territory (Vancouver) – CRAB Park tent city residents and supporters say there’s nowhere to go after eviction, and that the parking lot where they live is unceded Indigenous territory and part of a precious environmental heritage site.
WHAT: Press conference
WHERE: West parking lot by CRAB Park, 101 E Waterfront Rd, Vancouver
WHO: Don Larsen, Founder and President, CRAB Water for Life Society; Chrissy Brett, tent city liaison; Veronica Butler, Elder and head fire keeper; Mark, CRAB Park Resident
The tent city at CRAB Park sprang up after the closure of Oppenheimer Park, and has grown in three weeks to more than 82 tents and 100 residents. It remains one of the few places homeless people can safely go without danger of daily street sweeps destroying or removing their belongings or being moved along each day and having to carry all their belongings – wearing down physical and emotional strength.
Sunny was living in Oppenheimer Park off and on for years. He wasn’t there at the time that hotel rooms were being offered and found himself without a place to go after the park closed. He had spent time in shelters but found them too crowded, with little room to spread out especially during COVID. He had had been visiting CRAB Park to do his morning exercises, and someone told him to come to camp at CRAB Park.
Sunny says, “I love being here. My family stops by. It has connected me with my faith and made it stronger. Everyone’s organized, friendly and peaceful. Somewhere else, you have to be in the lookout all the time. Here, it’s a family affair. It feels great – love and care. Couldn’t be a better place than here to set up.”
The tent city promotes safe distancing, fresh air and hygiene. Community donations and meals mean that residents don’t have to line up twice a day for food. Outreach workers can provide services to a centralized location.
Ryan was offered a hotel room after Oppenheimer Park but wasn’t allowed to bring his small dog, smoke in his room or have guests. Many of his friends from Oppenheimer Park didn’t get housing at all. “Shelters were unhealthy. I’m too vulnerable. I need to keep my mental health and normalcy. On the street, no one knows your name or stuff about you. Here, I have food, communication, friendship, relationships, understanding, and connection to culture. This is helping me heal as a person.”
Ryan says that if CRAB Park closed down, “I’d be lost, lonely, looking for my friends, worrying. No cell phone, no communications. Me and my dog would be walking the streets, all the shelters will be full. My dog will get sick, I will get sick. There are no resources. This place is needed.”
The injunction application from the Port of Authority seeks to evict people from the parking lot unused for decades, citing upcoming contacts for container storage in the lot.
“The issue for me is beyond the housing issue – my issue is the four acre parking lot. The present Vancouver Park Board and previous board voted unanimously for the parking lot to become public park as part of CRAB Park, and the mayor and council also voted unanimously fairly recently for that four acres to become part of CRAB Park,” says Don Larsen, President and founder of CRAB Water for Life Society.
“My concern with what the port is planning is fairly negative – they want to put containers there and that’s right beside the bird marsh and not far from the children’s play area. There was an incident five years ago on the other side of CRAB Park at the foot of Main Street, where 12 people were sent to hospital due to lung damage from a chlorine container that caught fire. That’s always a reality and the danger of putting containers in public park and not far from a children’s play area.”
Elder and head fire-keeper Veronica Butler helped fight for the establishment of CRAB Park in 1984. “I know trees here. Singapore donated trees, Japan gave trees. That little marsh gives migrating birds somewhere to rest. Will we let this parking lot turn into tractor trailers and containers block out the view that we could have? This to me is CRAB Park. When I was asked to start this fire, this is a place to have connection with land, with our ancestors.”
“This tent city is a place for people without energy to take their belongings without fear of it being stolen This is the struggle. If you have spent one night on the street, you are my neighbour. And I worry about you sleeping on the sidewalk. It’s not just a CRAB Park issue, it’s an Indigenous issue. It’s clearly not just here, but out in Hastings that’s it’s mainly Indigenous people not getting housed and on reserves being under housed.”
Chrissy Brett, tent city liaison, says, “The Ports took over this land before federation. We have support from local First Nations people and are in discussion with the local elected and grassroots First Nations. Living on this land does not pose a danger to residents or public. We have ensured community has been built with fire access and egress taken into consideration. And will ensure to set up homes in what we believe to be safest way in unsafe and unsanitary conditions of being a displaced Indigenous person or homeless Canadian.
- Residents and supporters will not leave until all homeless people are provided with adequate, social housing.
- All levels of government and authorities to consult with tent city residents and provide residents’ most basic needs while they are at the tent city, or negotiates an alternative site with water, bathrooms, potable water, showers, hydro, and laundry.
- Once all residents are housed, use the parking lot to create new Crab Park healing centre.