Vancouver Police officers are seen at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver’s downtown eastside Thursday, March 26, 2020. The large amount of homeless living on the streets in the DTES and lack of social distancing may result in a easy spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Rise in homeless tent cities, encampments linked to health confidence: advocate

Homeless populations have different health risk factors than other citizens

Public health officials need to do more to help Canada’s homeless population as encampments and tent cities grow across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, an advocate says.

The comments come as B.C. cities struggle to find adequate solutions to look after their homeless populations.

Fourteen people were arrested Sunday over allegations they broke in to Lord Strathcona Elementary, a school on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

A group calling itself the Red Braid Alliance was part of the protest over what its members said was a plan to highlight a demand for housing.

READ MORE: Police arrest 14 people occupying empty Vancouver elementary school amid pandemic

Alliance member Listen Chen said she wasn’t hopeful that the city would address the homeless problem.

“The city and the province both have the emergency powers to requisition every single empty hotel room in the city and to shelter people,” she said.

“The city of Vancouver is negotiating with individual landlords to open up units, but I don’t expect hotel landlords are lining up to open their rooms to a stigmatized population.”

Those arrested, ranging from young adults to seniors, face charges of break and enter, Sgt. Aaron Roed with the Vancouver Police Department said.

The growth of such tent cities are a natural occurrence when homeless residents feel unsafe about their living conditions, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened those feelings, said Tim Richter, the president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

“If they don’t want squats, if they don’t want expanded rise in encampments then there needs to be a much better and safer response to homelessness today,” Richter said in an interview. “The necessary protections that public health is recommending for every other Canadian need to be in place for people experiencing homelessness.”

Victoria has requested the provincial government requisition its empty hotels to house its homeless population while in Vancouver, a camp at Oppenheimer Park has swelled to nearly 100 people with nearby residents concerned about violence they say is occurring in the park.

Homeless populations have different health risk factors than other citizens, such as underlying respiratory concerns and poor health, Richter said, adding that increases the possibility of an outbreak sweeping through the sites.

“The fact we have so many people at great risk of this disease for no other reason than lack of a home and access to adequate health care tells you we’ve got a pressing housing emergency in our country,” said Richter.

B.C.’s provincial health officer said she is aware of those concerns.

“We have two emergencies that we’re dealing with,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, during a media briefing Monday. “The one, our overdose crises, has been compounded in many ways particularly for those who are homeless and under-housed, people who have substance use disorders, it has been compounded by the restrictions we’ve put in place to deal with the pandemic.”

READ MORE: As B.C. grapples with pandemic, top doctor marks grim anniversary of overdose crisis

The province announced a cross-ministerial team last week, headed up by Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson, aimed at finding housing solutions.

Simpson called for patience when asked about the group’s concerns.

“I understand the urgency, frustration and barriers that people experiencing homelessness are facing right now. We are working to increase supports and will have more to say in the coming days. That being said, I cannot condone breaking the law and occupying a school at any time,” he said in a statement.

Both Henry and Simpson said they expect an announcement on housing to be made within the next few days.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

Alberni Valley, West Coast First Nations gather to remember woman fatally shot by police

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council requests an independent investigation

Kitchen fire sends one to hospital in Port Alberni

Apartment block evacuated after sprinkler system was set off

Qualicum Beach man arrested over racist incident at Tseshaht First Nation

Port Alberni RCMP said the man turned himself in

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

An ongoing updated list of Alberni Valley events affected by COVID-19

Has your event been cancelled or postponed? Check here

Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park at large

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

No charges to be laid against 22 northern B.C. pipeline protesters

Twenty-two people were arrested in February, but Crown has decided not to pursue charges

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Alert Bay resident carves tribute to his community kicking COVID-19’s butt

‘Our little village crushed the curve with love and commitment’

End of an Era: Tofino hair studio closes shop

“We were getting excited to start ramping up and then all of sudden we had to close our doors.”

Kelowna Mountie on desk duty following ‘aggressive’ arrest

The officer involved in an arrest that took place on May 30 in Kelowna has been placed on administrative duties

Most Read