VANDU’s open letter in support of the residents of Oppenheimer Park


Oppenheimer Park (August 4, 2014), Open-air meeting of the VANDU Tuesday Education Group

Today Vision Vancouver issued another eviction notice to the residents of the Oppenheimer Park Tent City. This will be the third official eviction notice delivered to the campers since July. For months VANDU members have supported, lived at, and been involved in the Oppenheimer Tent City. The following is an open letter issued by the VANDU Tuesday Education Group.

Over the course of the past ten years, hundreds of our members have been homeless, precariously housed, or in living conditions with severely inadequate health and safety standards. Each year the housing situation continues to worsen, and this year marks the highest recorded homelessness count in Vancouver’s history. The housing crisis has never been worse, and our organization stands at ground zero of the crisis. It is therefore both our first instinct and our deepest obligation to stand in solidarity with all campers in the Oppenheimer Park Tent City.

In mid-July, 2014, a small group of homeless residents initiated a self-organized tent city in Oppenheimer Park. The campers were immediately presented with a series of eviction notices from the City of Vancouver Parks Board. On July 20th, 2014, the Indigenous leadership of the tent city issued a counter-eviction, with a formal letter to the City of Vancouver asserting “Aboriginal Title.” The camp has since housed the house-less, expanding to its current size of 100 tentsand providing a community of refuge from the isolating and marginalizing effects of the housing crisis. It has also become a space for the mostly Indigenous residents for political organizing, community and self-empowerment.

At our meeting on August 4th, 2014, the VANDU Tuesday Education group chose to move from our regular meeting in the VANDU drop-in centre to the common area of the Oppenheimer camp. We did this both as a fact-finding mission, to investigate the conditions of the camp, and as a way to extend support to our members – drugs users and people with addictions – currently living in the central camp and all corners of Oppenheimer Park.

As a result of our rich encounter with the residents of the camp, the VANDU Tuesday Education Group has identified three keys areas of concern: 1) housing, 2) Indigenous land claims, and 3) municipal services at Oppenheimer Park. The Tuesday Education Group sees the homeless camp as a product of several interrelated social crises, including but not limited to: poverty related by frozen wages, social benefits and welfare rates; cycles of displacement rooted in the social and economic conditions of colonialism; and ongoing housing exploitation caused by the for-profit housing market.

1. Housing

Numerous campers at Oppenheimer Park are currently homeless and have been evicted from their SROs in the recent sweep of hotel closures and conversions. Other campers are currently paying rent to live in SROs, but have chosen the healthier living conditions of Oppenheimer Park. Some campers are also avoiding the alienating and restrictive residential policies of government-funded supportive housing. Both supportive housing and numerous SROs enforce unnecessarily restrictive guest ID policies, guest fees and other repressions of the basic social rights of tenants. All of the above forms of housing, including social housing, host severe bed bug and cockroach infestations that must be dealt in a systematic and city-wide approach funded by all levels of government. Lastly, numerous tenters at Oppenheimer Park are affected by the growing crisis of “hidden homelessness,” which means they are couch surfers; live in over-crowded housing; face housing discrimination and housing racism by landlords who threaten eviction; or experience violence against women and non-male identified renters, particularly those who are forced to stay in abusive and violent relationships due to the lack of safe, available housing.

2. Indigenous land

Many of the campers at Oppenheimer Park are intergenerational survivors of residential schools, and have inherited hundreds of years of colonial policies established to destroy and break apart Indigenous communities. Many of the Indigenous campers ended up in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside because of poverty on reserves, rural displacement through resource extraction, and destruction of the land across BC through various corporate and government mechanisms. The Tuesday Education Group recognizes that the current housing crisis has its origins in colonialism, the dispossession of Indigenous people, and the introduction of private ownership of the land, which places profits above needs and Aboriginal Title. Along with a host of other symptoms, the current evictions crisis in Vancouver demonstrates that colonialism is an ongoing process, as has been highlighted by the demands of the Oppenheimer tent city. The Tuesday Education Group stands with the dispossessed, displaced, and homeless of Oppenheimer Park, located on unceded Coast Salish Territories. We affirm the statement released by the campers on July 20th, 2014, asserting that the City has no moral authority to evict the homeless.

3. Municipal services at Oppenheimer Park

Until the beginning of the Tent City, the municipal facilities at Oppenheimer Park served coffee, water, ice cream and food. The community centre also hosted bathrooms and phone services for residents. The centre offered arts and crafts programming, games, and seniors programming. At a time when Oppenheimer has become a site of refuge from the housing crisis, the City should be doubling its supports and services at city-funded facilities in Oppenheimer Park. The Tuesday Education Group therefore joins residents in demanding that all municipal services at Oppenheimer Park be re-instated.

–VANDU Tuesday Education Group
September 26, 2014