Residents of CRAB Park experience street sweeps

Unhoused CRAB Park residents face destruction and confiscation of precious belongings

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CRAB Park in Downtown Vancouver
PHOTO: MikoFox / Flickr

By: Hannah Fraser, News Writer

On April 16, the Vancouver Park Board began street sweeps of CRAB Park residents, forcibly removing any individuals outside the “14–tent ‘designated area’” on the peninsula. Park rangers dismantled residents’ homes and confiscated belongings according to bylaws, which say campers must pack up belongings by 7:00 a.m. The Peak corresponded with Fiona York, an advocate for CRAB Park residents, for more information.

In March, “over 30 residents were forcibly removed” from the park. Around half are Indigenous, who are disproportionately impacted by the housing crisis and substance use. This is linked to various injustices committed over Canada’s history, such as colonialism, residential schools, and additional barriers to education and housing. 

In March, residents were told they could move back after the “clean-up” of the park was completed, according to the press release by CRAB Park Tent City residents. Similar to the sweeps of the area in March, York claimed the Park Board intended to forcefully remove all the residents from the area. 

On April 11, park rangers gave notice “to people on the south side informing them that the temporary sheltering area was [sic] ended, returning the park area to regular park use,” according to the City of Vancouver. The CRAB Park Tent City press release said the Park Board stated there would be an appeals process, though no additional information about it was provided to the residents before the sweep on April 16. York elaborated, “There obviously needs to be sufficient time for people to start the appeal process, present evidence, and be heard before there is any enforcement against them.” 

“They did not follow through on the apology and nowadays they enforce street sweeps every single day on Hastings Street.” — Fiona York, CRAB Park advocate

“Supporters of CRAB Park residents are greatly concerned about this increase in enforcement, especially given that it was completed during cheque week,” read the press release. This is the distribution of monthly cheques for welfare and government assistance. 

York explained that park rangers wait for residents to leave their homes to avoid confrontation. In 2022, the City of Vancouver apologized for the harm street sweeps were causing, but York noted “they still went ahead and did a mass, violent eviction of the tent city on Hastings Street on April 7, 2023.

“They did not follow through on the apology and nowadays they enforce street sweeps every single day on Hastings Street.”

York added that “the Park Board seems very interested in trying to look like they are being very compassionate, even when they’re not.” Specifically, she stated these street sweeps are violating “their dignity and right to shelter and safety,” especially with the increased anxiety that their home and belongings could be seized at any time. 

York noted how rare it is for items to be retrieved once confiscated. “It can take a lot of phone calls, emails, follow up, arranging transportation, and a lot of other hurdles that would be impossible to many homeless people that don’t have phones or emails or internet or electricity,” York said. She stated that even when a ranger returns a phone call, sometimes they have already marked the case as “closed.”

Rangers also took down the largest tent at CRAB Park which functioned as an “overdose prevention site, a peaceful gathering spot, a cultural site, and a memorial” for over three years. York said the tent’s destruction signifies a loss of community building, safety, and sense of belonging. 

“It also signifies a huge gap in dialogue and consultation as residents were very clear [and] vocal about the significance and importance of the community tent, but the feedback wasn’t respected,” she continued. “The First Nations Leadership Council also referred to ‘the right to communal gathering’ in their open letter about the move,” said York.

York said the City of Vancouver and Park Board’s continued street sweeps shows the perpetuated stigmas and discrimination against unhoused individuals. Particularly, “believing that homeless people are somehow different from other people and don’t deserve to have access to their belongings, or because they somehow don’t deserve to be treated the same way as others,” she said. 

Earlier this month, over 650 community members signed an open letter to encourage the city to stop the decampment operations. Supporters included Nicholas Blomley, a geography professor at SFU who co-authored the Belongings Matter report. Medical students at UBC wrote another open letter, which over 30 students signed.

York stated housing issues are “big systemic issues all over and should be treated with concern and real compassion instead of stigma and eviction.” 

Residents of CRAB Park are going to the provincial Legislature in Victoria on May 8 to give MLAs the chance to directly hear their input and accordingly act on what they hear. They say most MLAs have not engaged with tent city residents, “nor have they engaged in meaningful dialogue with the community.” 

Residents of CRAB Park are also proceeding to a hearing after opting to withdraw from mediation from a Human Rights Complaint. 

The Peak reached out for comment from the Vancouver Park Board, but did not hear back by the publication deadline.

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