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

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

The Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department responded to an engine Dec. 3 on Highway 16, using a compressed air and foam solution to extinguish the flames. (Submitted Photo/Krista Bowman)
Semi truck engine catches fire in Thornhill

Firefighters used a compressed air and foam solution to put out the fire

A volunteer committee is urging the provincial government to complete grizzly habitat mapping. (Ivan Hardwick photo)
Volunteer committee urges province to complete grizzly habitat mapping

Committee says only 18 of 37 watersheds have been mapped, province has spent $500,000 so far

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Terrace RCMP arrested an impaired driver and found illicit drugs, weapons and stolen property in the vehicle on Nov. 28, 2020. (File Photo)
Terrace RCMP arrest impaired driver in possession of weapons

Weapons, illicit drugs, stolen property found in vehicle

A COVID-19 exposure has been recorded at Centennial Christian School in Terrace. The exposure occurred between Nov. 23 and Nov. 26, 2020. (Centennial Christian School Facebook photo)
COVID-19 exposure recorded at Centennial Christian School in Terrace

It’s the first known school exposure in Terrace

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

An RCMP officer confers with military rescuers outside their Cormorant helicopter near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
Good Samaritan helped Kootenay police nab, rescue suspect which drew armed forces response

Midway RCMP said a Good Samaritan helped track the suspect, then brought the arresting officer dry socks

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

(Needpix.com)
Pandemic has ‘exacerbated’ concerns for B.C. children and youth with special needs: report

Pandemic worsened an already patchwork system, representative says

Most Read