VANCOUVER—There are rising tensions in a Vancouver neighbourhood where an encampment sprung up months ago, with one city councillor calling on the province to step in after he says he was threatened.
Councillor Pete Fry, who lives in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood, was threatened by a man on Friday morning after he says he stepped in to protect a neighbour.
The man threatened to stab him and threw a punch, which he was able to block, Fry added.
“This is a fairly regular occurrence of late,” he said in an interview on Saturday, alleging that children have been threatened, families have faced violence and a handgun was found at a playground in the park.
Vancouver police did not return requests for comment on whether they were investigating the incident or on if there was a spike in crime since the encampment started.
Kim Allen, a neighbour who caught part of the confrontation on video, said it shows the level of tension in the neighbourhood.
It’s not known whether the man was a member of the homeless encampment, but Allen said she’s frustrated.
“We’re on the edge. We’ve just had enough. And that altercation (Friday) is not a single thing. It’s a common thing,” she said.
Fry said he believes the issues facing the encampment, involving addiction and housing, fall outside of the city’s jurisdiction and require support from more senior levels of government.
Navigation centres, for which the B.C. government allocated $ 50 million in funding over the next three year toward in its pre-pandemic budget, would be a good first step, he added.
Such centres would have beds, support and wraparound services to help people with addictions and other health issues find more permanent housing.
“The focus of the navigation centre is to help the people who want and need our help,” he said.
But he’s unsure if the leaders of the camp would accept losing their self-governance in such a model.
“I haven’t been supportive and I don’t think they’re capable of managing this camp,” he said. “This is a political game and an activist approach. I don’t think the end results will be the best for the people who need our help.”
Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson said in a statement that he appreciates the concerns raised by Fry and other residents.
“We’re asking the federal government to step up and join us in providing funding for housing. I’m also encouraging the police to increase their efforts around community safety in light of the concerns we’ve heard from Strathcona residents,” he said.
Simpson added that the provincial government has moved more than 2,500 people into new supportive housing since the pandemic started and would have more to say about navigation centres in the coming weeks.
The encampment was started after previous tent cities in Oppenheimer and CRAB parks were shut down by court injunctions.
The Vancouver Park Board passed a motion in July allowing people to camp in parks, with campers required to pack up and move every morning.
Chrissy Brett, one of the tent city’s spokeswomen and organizers, said the city had a chance to stop the situation from escalating to where it has but failed to do so.
She condemned violence between residents and campers, but said the differing ways police respond to the incidents highlight the prejudice campers face.
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“I’ve faced violence from the regular public, who aren’t from here, and nobody comes to our aid. And yet, when other people call about things, we have police that come in a really violent way,” Brett said.
She added that she doesn’t believe the person seen threatening Fry on video was a resident of the tent encampment.
Brett reiterated her support for self-governing, low-barrier supports to allow campers an alternative form of housing.