BRITISH COLUMBIA

Oppenheimer Park Homeless Camp: Body Removed From Tent Hours Before Injunction

10/15/2014 05:34 EDT | Updated 12/15/2014 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - A coroner wheeled a body out of a homeless camp on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside just hours before police were expected to enforce an injunction ejecting occupants from the tent city.

A Vancouver police said the man's body was discovered about 11 a.m. Wednesday in a tent at Oppenheimer Park. The park has been the site of a homeless camp since late July.

The death was not considered suspicious, though police said in a news release that it wasn't clear why the man died. His identity hadn't been confirmed, but police said he was believed to be 69 years old.

The injunction deadline was set last week by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Duncan who based her decision partly on the fact the city planned to open more temporary housing this week.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson expressed his condolences to the family and friends of the dead man but remained critical of the camp.

"This is, of course, a tragic incident that we were hoping not to see at Oppenheimer Park as the tent camp goes into its final stages," he said.

"But this tragedy certainly demonstrates why tent camps are not safe, why the city has had great concerns about this camp continuing to be there, and particularly the safety issues for elderly people."

Robertson said he hopes there will be a peaceful resolution to the situation, noting 98 people have already been moved to shelters or housing and another 100 shelter beds are available.

In an attempt to obtain the injunction last week, Lawyers for the city told the court concerns were mounting over safety and hygiene at the camp.

Anthony Guitar, who identified himself as one of the five people who started the encampment, said he was sad and disgusted by the death.

He said a copy of the court injunction had been posted on the dead man's tent for several days.

"I mean while we were fighting the injunction for that week it kept coming up how VPD has spent over $100,000 patrolling this park. Well, if that's the case then why wasn't that tent opened to see if anybody was in there to see if they were OK."

D.J. Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, said some people have taken up the city on its housing offer and are staying on mats in emergency shelters. She said some campers have been told it's the only way to get on a housing list.

"They feel like they don't have a choice, even though its not a really good or safe option for them," she said.

Others, including couples and people with pets, will likely return to living in the corners of parks, in alleys or doorways, she added.

Larkin said she also hasn't heard anything about the extra housing that was promised in court.

"Putting people into emergency shelters makes a lot of the public feel more comfortable because then you don't have to see a homeless person," said Larkin. "That person is still homeless, even if they're going to a shelter at night."

Robertson said city staff will be at the park to dismantle the tents, and police will be present in case of an emergency or the need for intervention.

"After 10 p.m., people who are camping in the park are in contempt of court, so they are breaking the law," said Robertson. "At that point, the city and the police have more powers to enforce that law, but the real focus for us is to ensure tents come down and people are shifted out of the park and into shelter."

About 100 people remained in the park by the afternoon, Guitar said.

"Come 10:01 p.m., a lot of these people are going to go to jail and they are stating that they're staying here," he said. "I mean, there's nowhere else to go."

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Downtown Eastside, Vancouver