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Man found dead in Strathcona Park; advocates say conditions worsening at camp

Last Updated Dec 7, 2020 at 7:51 am PST

FILE - A tent is seen at Strathcona Park in Vancouver. (CityNews)
Summary

Organizers at the camp say the conditions at the tent city have been getting worse in recent weeks

Advocates point to the ongoing crises of homelessness, and record numbers of overdose deaths due to a toxic drug supply

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A man was found dead at Strathcona Park Sunday and organizers say the tragic discovery comes as conditions at the encampment deteriorate amid colder weather, rising COVID-19 numbers, and a relentlessly fatal overdose crisis.

The Vancouver Police Department confirms they received a call at around 11 a.m. reporting “a deceased man found on the track in Strathcona Park.” In a statement, Cst. Tania Visintin says the BC Coroners Service has been called in and the cause of death is being investigated.

Chrissy Brett, an organizer at the camp says the conditions at the tent city have been getting increasingly worse in recent weeks.

“We don’t have running water, we don’t have access to bathrooms. We currently lose the only running water we have at about four o’clock in the afternoon. We have four portapotties that don’t have any hand sanitizer in them,” she says.

“The tents that people are living in are not intended to live in, they’re intended for a week at a lake or a campground to enjoy the outdoors. They’re not meant to live in.”

She says the people living in Strathcona Park — where the encampment has grown to hundreds of tents since June — have been abandoned by all levels of government.

“People are falling through the cracks, and they’re not even cracks — they’re crevices. Homeless people are seen as less than anyone else in this country and it’s not okay,” she explains.

“There should not be any Canadian that is left lying out in the street, or in alleys, or living in doorways, or along Hastings Street or any other street.  Where is the city, where is the province, where his federal government in all of this?”

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Community organizer Fiona York says the man’s death is a devastating reminder of the ongoing crises of homelessness, and record numbers of overdose deaths due to a toxic drug supply — both of which are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone’s feeling it, everyone’s just sort of in this ongoing trauma with all the losses, everybody in isolation. Homelessness is higher than ever, overdoses are higher than ever,” she says.

“It’s a community trauma, the devastation that people are feeling. We just try to do our best to provide the supports we can to make people a bit more safe and comfortable. We try to provide the humanity and the community that we can to help keep people going.”

On Oct. 8, Vancouver City Council approved a motion that would allocate $30 million to be spent on ’emergency options’ to house the homeless amid COVID-19. Council heard from hundreds of speakers in a meeting that lasted over 12 hours. One of the amendments to the motion dealt specifically with Strathcona Park and directed city staff to “secure a location and immediately activate a pandemic shelter.”

That amendment was supported by Coun. Pete Fry, who also lives in Strathcona. Following the meeting, he explained that the measure is meant to “triage” those living in the Strathcona Park encampment into temporary, indoor shelter spaces as part of a “transition toward permanent housing.”

The timeline for this was not set at that meeting, but Fry said he hoped it would be soon.

“Obviously we’re getting into some colder, wetter weather. The second wave of the pandemic is very real, and we’re seeing daily increases in cases and in particular in the Downtown Eastside. We have a large population, the largest homeless encampment in the country, and we’re talking about folks who are living in a very damp, boggy park. Folks are in tents without adequate washing facilities and hygiene facilities in the midst of a pandemic. This is a signal that we recognize that we’re on the edge of what could be potentially some really catastrophic outcomes, and I think staff heard that tonight,” he told NEWS 1130.

With files from Nikitha Martins.