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Vancouver's CRAB Park homeless camp down to 12 tents

Seven park rangers, four police officers visited the site Wednesday.
Park rangers and police visited the CRAB Park homeless encampment Wednesday to ensure compliance with the parks control bylaw and check on the well-being of residents.

Sarah is five months pregnant.

She’s 38 and lives in the CRAB Park homeless encampment on Vancouver’s waterfront.

She could be living in a single-room-occupancy building in the Downtown Eastside, but chooses not to for reasons related to her safety and well-being.

“It's so disgusting that I can't stay there — like, it's really bad,” she said. “I got home invaded five times, and my room's been robbed an additional eight times.”

Sarah, who didn’t want her surname published, said she feels safer in the park, where she has lived in a tent off and on for about three years. She’s one of the few residents remaining in the encampment, with the camp down to 12 tents.

“There’s fresh air, no black mould, no cockroaches, no bedbugs, no human fecal matter in the stairwells, no graffiti, no clouds of heroin,” she said, holding one of her mastiffs at her side.

She spoke to Glacier Media Wednesday morning, shortly after seven park rangers and four Vancouver police officers visited the encampment, going tent to tent to check on residents’ well-being and ensure compliance with the parks control bylaw.

The show of force has been a regular occurrence in what Sarah and encampment advocate Fiona York say is unnecessary and a continuation of what they described as a slow-moving decampment of the site.

They say barbecues, smokers, bicycles, cleaning supplies, a dog’s water bowl, potted plants, chairs and personal belongings have been seized by rangers, who usually outnumber residents of the camp.

Video evidence supports their claims.

Vancouver's CRAB Park encampment, as seen June 19, 2024. Photo Mike Howell

'Living under a bridge in Richmond'

At one point in the camp’s three-year history on the peninsula, up to 150 people lived in the park. That population decreased to about 40 people just before city crews began the cleanup in March, said York, adding that city officials then decided to create a list of 16 people who could remain; the number was originally at 27, as city documents show.

York said she and residents appealed to city officials to consider at least 19 other people to stay in the designated area on the peninsula. She said the appeals weren’t granted, with some people placed in housing or shelter, while others returned to the street.

“I know a person who is living in an alley with his dog, and another person who is living under a bridge in Richmond,” she said. “I know some others who are trying to stay with friends, here and there.”

The current setup at the encampment is nothing like its previous incarnation — in size, or state — that existed in March when city crews moved into to remove various debris, including propane tanks, to prepare for a major cleanup of the peninsula.

That cleanup cost $366,900, according to information from the City of Vancouver, which said the cost is in addition to “daily operations” in CRAB Park. Glacier Media has requested the cost of daily operations, but did not receive that information before deadline.

In the days leading up to the cleanup, city officials emphasized to media in March that action to be taken on the site was not a decampment.

At the time, deputy city manager Sandra Singh said the move was “an attempt to clean up this area and ensure that the area is bylaw compliant for safety and health reasons moving forward.”

Vancouver's CRAB Park, as seen in March 2024 during a City of Vancouver-led cleanup of the waterfront peninsula. Photo Mike Howell

'Huge infestation of rodents'

Coun. Peter Meiszner said the cleanup was necessary, arguing that the longer encampments are entrenched, the bigger the costs become to remediate them. He mentioned his concern about feces, needles, garbage and propane tanks at the park.

“Probably the most alarming thing that was happening there was a huge infestation of rodents that were tunnelling under the camp and even biting people while they were sleeping,” Meiszner said. “So we had to act.”

Meiszner said the cleanup has coincided with the city, park board, BC Housing and non-profits working together “in a sensitive manner” to address health concerns and find people housing or shelter.

He disputed residents’ claim that the city’s action amounted to a decampment.

At the same time, he said the city’s goal is to continue to connect people to housing, to services and reduce the size of the camp “in order to return the park to its original purpose, which is a park space for the community.”

In April, the park board approved a series of amendments to the parks control bylaw, defining what is allowed and not allowed regarding sheltering in parks.

York estimated the money the city has spent related to the CRAB Park encampment, which was set up in May 2021, is more than $1 million. She suggested the money could have been better spent building tiny houses or shelters on a Port Authority-owned parking lot adjacent to the encampment.

“So many things could have been done with that amount of money,” she said, referencing a $660,000 grant from the Union of BC Municipalities to fund temporary rangers at CRAB Park.

Vancouver police officers attended the CRAB Park encampment Wednesday with park rangers. Photo Mike Howell

'Not doing any bad to anybody'

Sarah, meanwhile, is hopeful she can find a safe, secure place to live before her baby is born in October. She said she has been in touch with outreach workers over her concerns for her health and well-being.

For now, she wants to stay connected with her neighbours in the encampment and avoid interactions with rangers and police.

“We're not doing any bad to anybody, we're not causing any crimes in the area, we're homeless,” she said. “I'm homeless because I've refused to live in a... shithole. It's not OK. I'm not doing that. I can't do it.”

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