Volunteers prevented from entering CRAB Park amidst street sweeps

There are reports of park rangers increasing heavy-handed enforcement

This is a photo of CRAB Park tent spaces.
PHOTO: Amirul Anirban / The Peak

By: Hannah Fraser, News Writer

Content warning: description of police violence.

According to local advocates, “The Vancouver Park Board is creating a daily exclusive ‘work-zone’ around the encampment at CRAB Park, preventing volunteers and media from entering.” The work zone has been established since the week of June 10, amidst ongoing street sweeps happening across Vancouver for years. Recent escalations have involved park rangers dismantling residents’ homes and seizing their belongings, following Park Board bylaws newly established in April. These bylaws say CRAB Park residents are permitted to shelter there overnight but must take down their shelters in the morning by 7:00 a.m. unless they’re in the designated area, which is scaled to fit 14 residents. 

Items park rangers have confiscated include “blankets, clothing, tarps, potted plants, a memorial wreath, spice rack, and first aid supplies to a dog’s water bowl and cultural carving tools,” said local advocates in a press release. “They open or enter tents without a 24-hour written notice, and residents have been threatened with eviction if they swear.” 

Local advocates report that “rangers have become increasingly heavy-handed in enforcing [the] new set of bylaws,” now introducing daily work zones. Three CRAB Park advocates said they have been shoved by police or rangers, with one volunteer stating they were pushed by an officer telling them to “move back or we do this another way.” 

Another volunteer recounted their experience on June 13: “I moved to where [the police officer] gestured . . . But he got in my face, his lip curled, he snarled, ‘You just want to make trouble,’ and grabbed my arm and shoved me toward a different set of garbage bins.” The Peak corresponded with Fiona York, a volunteer and advocate for CRAB Park residents, for more information on the ongoing street sweeps. York noted park rangers have also tried to seize a volunteer’s bike. The volunteer had to get on the bike while the rangers tried to pull it from her so she could keep it.

York expressed she encountered “one of the most horrifying things” at the street sweeps — rangers seizing “a memorial wreath for one of the residents who had passed away.” The recent work zone prevents volunteers from intervening in incidents like this and standing up for park residents.

“They just don’t want that visibility of homelessness, the visible poverty. They’re just wanting to sweep that away.” — Fiona York, advocate for CRAB Park residents

York said the park rangers are quick to “criminalize and make people into bad people for wanting to have their own little space,” which pushes residents into situations where they are “more vulnerable.” She recalled one instance where a resident was speaking loudly about the rangers and happened to spill some liquid out of a bottle she was holding. She was arrested for assault, as they alleged she was purposely throwing liquid at them.

York estimated that “the money the city has spent related to the CRAB Park encampment, which was set up in May 2021, is more than $1 million.” This includes a “$660,000 grant from the Union of BC Municipalities to fund temporary rangers,” and various services from the Park Board, sanitation department, city, and police.

York said a tiny home community could be built in two months, with one tiny home costing roughly $6,250 monthly to operate. She suggested the money spent on street sweeps could have been better used to build ten tiny homes. Vancouver’s first “tiny shelter” project was “a collection of 10 single-room structures on a former parking lot on a city-owned property on Terminal Avenue,” which residents moved into in December last year.

The City said, “The shared goal of the Park Board and the City is to support those sheltering outdoors to come inside.” During the winter months Vancouver shelters are often full and faced with turning people away from shelter space. CRAB Park residents also express their desire for their own spaces with a lock on the door, but the street sweeps continue to be funded. 

“They just don’t want that visibility of homelessness, the visible poverty,” said York referring to the city. “They’re just wanting to sweep that away.”

The Peak reached out to the Park Board for more information, but did not receive a response by the publication deadline.

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