VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A confrontation between a city councillor and another man Friday morning was caught on camera, and the woman who filmed it says it gives a glimpse into how the presence of a growing tent city in Strathcona Park has “hardened the edges” of the neighbourhood.
Kimberly Allen says it all started when she saw a man in a doorway.
“They were obviously preparing to put something in their body with a syringe. That was very obvious and my thought was that should not be happening on our front steps, that should not be happening next to four kids under the age of three,” she says.
So she asked him to move.
“I was responded to with aggression, anger, vulgar words, and a motion forward. I stepped back and Pete Fry stepped in.”
Fry was walking his dog, as he does every morning.
“I was intervening in an aggressive situation, where a friend and neighbour was asking a gentleman who was in the doorway of a local house, to move along from what he was doing. He got very aggressive with her and I stepped in and intervened and had to use some colourful and pretty embarrassing language to move him along. But it was one of those thing, I wanted to make sure that she was safe and that my neighbours were safe,” Fry says.
“I don’t want other Vancouverites to feel that it’s appropriate necessarily to go and directly engage in that kind of capacity. It’s better to involve the police because that could have gone quite sideways, and he did threaten me with a knife and he could have had a knife.”
As long-time residents of the downtown neighbourhood, both Allen and Fry say asking someone using drugs or taking refuge in a doorway to move along was fairly commonplace prior to the encampment being set up.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time. It’s not the first time I’ve been threatened and I’ve been in altercations in the past and I’ve managed to diffuse a lot of them. I’m a little embarrassed by my reaction that was perhaps a little too strident, but it was a situation that I had to deal with at that moment. Sometimes in those situations you just have to act bigger or tougher and do what you gotta do. My first concern was protecting Kim,” Fry says.
“I have requested people move before and not received such push back, which is why I wasn’t afraid to do that, but I think what happened this morning was an indication of the anger and frustration that is felt by everyone in this situation, everyone,” Allen says.
“The neighbourhood of Strathcona is a lovely place, we look out for each other, the people who live here are kind to one another and Camp KT has really, really hardened the edges of that.”
But they both say things in the neighbourhood have become more fraught and more violent as the encampment has grown.
“When it arrived I knew this would be the end result and it’s been getting progressively more fractured in the neighbourhood,” Fry says, adding the encampment has grown from dozens of tents to hundreds.
“There’s a lot more disorder, we’ve had some interference with children, a handgun was found in the water park. There’s increasing issues of security and safety for the entire community as a direct result of the traffic that’s coming from the Downtown Eastside through Strathcona to attend the encampment. There’s an incredible amount of theft that’s happening in the neighbourhood, and some pretty active chop shops within the encampment. So, these are all precipitating in a heightened tension in the neighbourhood.”
The park is under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Park Board, meaning the City of Vancouver can’t seek an injunction or otherwise order campers to leave.
“Folks who are my friends and neighbours are coming to me desperate for solutions, and there’s not many I can give as the city of Vancouver,” Fry says.
The park board has voted to move forward with a by-law that would allow camping in parks overnight, but would require them to clear out by morning, however it has not been enacted and can’t yet be enforced.
Furthermore, Fry and Allen agree that moving people along each morning or pushing them into a different park isn’t a solution.
“I don’t necessarily think moving them to a new space is the answer. This is a vulnerable population and they need support — support for homelessness, support for drug addiction,” Allen says.
Fry says one thing that would help is for the province to prioritize moving forward with establishing “Navigation Centres.”
He thinks one could be set up in the park to “triage” people to housing and social services.
Although he doesn’t regret the way he intervened, he doesn’t encourage others to get involved in similar confrontations.
“I don’t advise people to get involved or to get in people’s faces especially if they’re experiencing mental health or addictions issues, it can certainly end badly for somebody. Folks should put their personal safety first and foremost and also exercise some compassion and empathy when we’re dealing with folks who are in the throes of mental health and addictions because it’s a very complicated space to be in.”