The City of Vancouver has re-opened three crucial community facilities that had reduced services months ago in response to COVID-19.
The Carnegie and Evelyne Saller Community Centres have reopened in the Downtown Eastside, the city said Wednesday in a news release, along with the Gathering Place Community Centre in Downtown Vancouver. All are now providing drop-in space and increased washroom access between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day.
The facilities, which mainly serve the city’s vulnerable and homeless population, have been inspected by health officials and approved for reopening. Drop-in space will be limited because of capacity restrictions.
“Reopening these community centres is a very positive step as they provide much-needed services and social connections for many of our residents,” said Sandra Singh, the City’s General Manager of Arts, Culture and Community Services.
“While the centres will look and feel different than prior to COVID-19, we are looking forward to welcoming community members back in modified ways and offering services such as access to wifi and mobile programming,” said Singh.
This is the first phase of reopening, while additional programs and services will be available in the coming months.
Timings for meals, laundry and showers can be found here.
Tent city at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver. Jason Payne / PNG
Vancouver’s park board chair says he can’t yet talk about details of the next steps to help the people at Oppenheimer Park for fear it could upset a delicate situation, but insists work to find homes for the people sleeping there hasn’t slowed or stalled.
The elected board said last week it was in the final stages of working with B.C. Housing and the City of Vancouver to hire a third-party organization to help with housing outreach and “peer mentorship” for homeless people in the park. The agencies are working to find more temporary and permanent shelter space for them and others in the Downtown Eastside.
The encampment at the park began in October 2018 with a few tents and grew to 200 tents in early August 2019. On Dec. 9, the park board directed staff to engage a third-party organization to assess the situation and make recommendations for a “decampment plan” to safely house the roughly 40 people living there.
Park board chair Camil Dumont said that while he can’t yet reveal details about the third party, the board is working non-stop with the city and B.C. Housing on solutions for the troubling situation at the park.
“I just feel like they’re holding (that information) back for fear of compromising the process, but I know that it’s all happening,” Dumont said.
Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon said Friday that the third party could be announced this week. It will be “working on the ground with the people, building relationships, making sure they’re hooked into the correct services, and finding appropriate housing for them as it becomes available,” he said.
Dumont said the third party will serve as a kind of liaison between the people in the park and the services available to them.
“There are human beings here who are really struggling and those folks need to be helped,” Dumont said. “That’s different than the bigger, more systemic issues that we’re working on and we need to do both.”
The effort to find the people in the park adequate and affordable housing has been made more difficult by the housing crisis in the region and homelessness crisis across the country, Dumont said.
The park board also authorized its general manager, Malcolm Bromley, to seek a court injunction to clear the park, after certain conditions were met, including the engagement of that third party.
In September, the board had rejected Bromley’s earlier recommendation to clear the park with an injunction.
In previous years, the park board has authorized the use of court injunctions to clear encampments in Oppenheimer, including most recently in 2014.
The board is now working to update a bylaw so that the people sleeping in the park aren’t considered breaking the law. The amended bylaw would be in line with other municipalities which allow overnight sheltering in parks when no other shelter is available, the board said in a news release.
Dumont said he wants all of this work done “yesterday,” but it has been slowed by bureaucracy.
“There’s protocol, there’s expenses and it all has to fit together,” he said.
“When there’s a bunch of folks trying to collaborate on a situation that, honestly, is really uncomfortable for everyone. There’s no easy path to a solution. It demands creativity from bureaucracies and, honestly, that’s not what bureaucracies are known for.”
Dumont said accusations that the park board is dragging its feet being made in politics and media are unfair.
Dumont said he’s spent time at the park over the past few months, learning about the people living there and what they need to fare better.
“What they really want is housing,” he said. “They want to be able to afford to have a roof over their head and a warm bed and a clean washroom, and they want to be in a context where they are connected to their community and they’re not ‘othered’ by the system at hand.
“That’s an entirely reasonable ask and it’s entirely outside of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a culture in regard to people experiencing homelessness.”
The UGM has a long, respected record of providing supportive recovery housing for people with addictions, including this one, The Sanctuary, for women. Yet it is on a government list of “unlicensed” operators. Blame the government’s confusing and opaque rules. Jason Payne / PNG
For 80 years, the Union Gospel Mission has provided services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, feeding people, providing shelter and helping them deal with addictions.
It has annual revenue of just over $22 million and assets of nearly $7 million. A couple of weeks ago, it served 2,500 people at its annual Christmas dinner.
It is one of the largest providers of supportive recovery housing for people with addictions.
For women, whose needs are greatly underserved, UGM has the eight-bed Lydia Home in Mission and 13 beds at The Sanctuary on Heatley Avenue in Vancouver.
For men, it has a purpose-built facility with 62 beds for addictions recovery, 72 shelter beds and 37 affordable housing units that opened in 2011.
The provincial government put up $12.1 million for the $29 million facility and the city waived $420,000 in development fees, which explains why former housing minister Rich Coleman and then-mayor Gregor Robertson were among the dignitaries attending.
Clearly, UGM is no fly-by-night organization.
But it’s a testament to the complexity and opacity of the B.C. government’s assisted living registry that UGM has found itself on a list on of 26 unregistered (a.k.a. illegal) facilities, which includes both supportive addictions recovery houses and seniors’ assisted living.
“We feel terrible and embarrassed about our mistake as we take regulatory compliance seriously,” programs director Dan Russell said in an email. “We believed our recovery programs did not require registration or licensing because we did not provide any prescribed services.”
When UGM learned that its recovery program “could be interpreted as a therapy program” under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, Russell said it immediately contacted the Health Ministry, which sent inspectors on Oct. 10.
In their report posted on the ministry’s website, the inspectors listed two prescribed services that were being offered at all three houses as “psychosocial supports and medication administration.”
UGM was ordered to reduce the number of people receiving services to no more than two at each location, cease providing the services or immediately apply for registration.
UGM sprang into action, gathering documentation to meet all 30 requirements on the registration checklist. It was ready to submit the application on Nov. 20. But by then, the online application form had disappeared because of new regulations that came into effect Dec. 1.
It meant UGM (along with any others attempting to get off the bad list) had to gather more documentation to prove that it meets the new guidelines. UGM is still working on completing it, but it had hoped that its good intentions would have meant it would be taken off the list.
Among the many reasons that UGM is so eager to get off a list is that the list includes several very bad operators.
Those bad actors are the reason that after years of inaction, the province has finally taken some steps to strengthen regulations and enforcement to protect vulnerable addicts searching for help.
Vancouver Recovery Centre is one of those. Operated by Kyle Walker, four of its houses are on the unregistered list with complaints against them.
The Abbotsford News reported that neighbours of the one on Eagle Street in Abbotsford described it as a flophouse when they went to city council meeting in May to finally get it closed.It also reported that police had been called to the house 32 times between January 2017 and January 2019 for a sexual assault, a domestic dispute and threats and that residents were being charged $800 to live there.
The house was still operating despite orders from the city in April 2017 and the province in September 2018 to close.
For decades, the provincial government and municipalities have been playing whack-a-mole with scammers who promise addictions recovery services and provide only shelter.
Yet, even some government-registered recovery houses have critical failings — failings that have cost five people their lives in the past year.
Union Gospel Mission is not one of those and there are many registered and licensed houses operating to the highest standards.
Protecting them from guilt by association is why registration, licensing, regulation and enforcement are all crucial.
More importantly, a robust system and a credible registry are only ways that anyone — let alone desperate addicts and families — can determine whether a recovery house is safe or whether the best thing about it is a slick website.
Soon British Columbia will mark the fourth anniversary of a public health emergency caused by overdose deaths from a fentanyl-laced supply of illicit drugs.
The number of deaths dropped 30 per cent in the first half of 2019. But the number of times paramedics were called to deal with overdoses remains near its all-time high.
Addiction isn’t going away nor is the need for high-quality treatment and recovery services.
Tamara Loyer proudly wears a bright red lanyard around her neck, from which dangles keys to the modest office where she oversees a unique Downtown Eastside drop-in program for trans woman that she designed this year.
She’s come a long way in the past decade: from a despondent homeless woman trapped inside a body with male genitalia to someone who has undergone gender-confirming surgery and now has a home, goes to school and is employed.
“I’ve not been in an office setting since the mid-1980s,” laughs Loyer during an interview at Atira Women’s Resource Society, where she started the Beyond the Street drop-in for trans women in September.
Now 57, Loyer believes her internal war with her gender was at the root of her 30-year spiral into drug addiction, sex work and homelessness, and that the surgery she had in April 2014 gave her the confidence to start putting her life back together again.
“After surgery, I thought I don’t want to have to think about (gender) the way I did before. I can be part of the world. I can go and do things now without being self-conscious,” she reflected. “I walk around here and I don’t have to be afraid that what’s in my head and what people see aren’t the same.”
She is happy with her outward appearance, but is inwardly still haunted by gender dysphoria — a crippling unhappiness with one’s biological gender.
“After surgery, we all like to think that it will never bother me again. It still does. I think about it every day,” she said.
Her dark thoughts are often triggered by still-lingering male gender traits, such as facial hair and a low voice. “That bothers me still to this day. I’m not as critical, as I was, at what I see in the mirror, (but) it doesn’t go away 100 per cent.”
The Vancouver Sun documented Loyer’s story in 2014: the challenges of applying for the surgery and organizing the logistics when you have a vulnerable lifestyle, no fixed address, a panhandler’s income, and no family supports. At the time, B.C. funded sex-reassignment surgeries, but the only place in Canada that performed them was a private Montreal hospital, where Loyer was flown by a charity airline.
“I had nobody with me and it was terrifying,” she said. “It was daunting. There is so much red tape to go through.”
The number of B.C. patients that must endure that flight to Montreal is expected to decrease in the coming years. A new gender surgery clinic opened in Vancouver General Hospital in late September, where the Health Ministry anticipates full-scale gender-affirming surgeries will be performed, likely next year.
B.C.’s new gender surgery clinic
Two surgeons with specialized skills have been hired to work at the clinic, and since September have done repairs and revisions to previous surgeries, and performed parts of so-called “lower surgeries” — but not yet the entire procedure, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Until this year, patients in every province had to travel to Montreal for “lower surgeries” — which include vaginoplasty for trans women and phalloplasty for trans men. In June, Ontario started to offer these complex surgeries at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, and B.C. plans to be the next province to do so.
“The trans community has advocated over a number of years for improved access to care, including access to complex lower surgeries within B.C.,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said in November 2018, when he first indicated the services offered here would expand.
“For those seeking lower surgery, people were required to travel to Montreal or to the U.S., resulting in additional medical risks associated with travelling long distance after surgery and in receiving followup care if there were complications.”
The number of British Columbians travelling to Montreal has been on the rise, with about 100 patients annually in recent years. That number is expected to stay roughly the same in 2020, while the B.C. program fully ramps up, the Health Ministry said.
An estimated one per cent of the population identifies as trans, which includes a wide range of people for whom their gender is different from their assigned sex at birth. In B.C., the Health Ministry says, about 46,000 people identify as “trans or gender diverse,” but only a few will pursue medical or surgical services.
Offering the service closer to home will make it simpler to access and to allow friends to visit during recovery. That may encourage more trans people to consider surgery, especially those from marginalized communities like the Downtown Eastside, Loyer said.
And, she argued, it will benefit society in the long run to help more people feel in sync with their own bodies.
“You are going to get a person who is going to be more productive. Somebody who might want to go to school, get a job. Somebody who might want to join their family again,” she said. “You don’t have to live in despair, overwhelmed with what is described as an illness. You can be functional.”
Trans people face discrimination and harassment, which often leads to poor mental health and a greater risk for suicide, says the Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention.
Loyer speaks softly when she remembers trans friends who committed “suicide, got killed, ran away, were never seen again, overdosed or became mental patients.” She hopes these tragedies will be less frequent among her peers with the new local access to medical help.
Another set of surgeries many trans people pursue — breast augmentation or chest construction — were, until recently, offered in only Vancouver and Victoria. Now B.C. has 16 surgeons who do this work, and these procedures have been extended to Abbotsford, Burnaby, Port Moody, New Westminster, Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George.
The demand for these upper surgeries in B.C. has quadrupled in just three years, with 49 performed in 2015-16 and 254 in 2018-19. The Health Ministry anticipates 300 breast or chest surgeries will be completed by the end of this fiscal year, in March 2020.
And B.C. has a waiting list for this procedure with more than 200 names.
In 2015, the Provincial Health Services Authority launched Trans Care B.C., which offers details about health care and support for trans people or their families. Its service directory lists dozens of drop-ins and information groups across the province, including in communities outside Metro Vancouver such as Prince Rupert, Fort St John and Cranbrook.
She hoped B.C. would offer acceptance
So much as changed since Loyer first arrived in Vancouver in 1984, at age 23, leaving behind a turbulent childhood on a Quebec military base. She came here to seek acceptance. She assumed the name Tamara, found work as a computer programmer and continued to pursue post-secondary education.
But she faced discrimination, numbed her pain with drugs, and eventually worked the streets to earn income. In 1989 she began inquiring about a sex-change operation, but had no stability to pursue surgery.
She was homeless, sick and dejected in 2011 when an outreach worker took her to the first place she felt at home: a shelter for woman, run by Atira. Despite the obvious challenges of sharing communal bathrooms with the female tenants of the modest shelter, Loyer began to heal and, through a new network of support, was able to get her surgery in March 2014.
The Healthy Ministry paid $20,000 for the procedure and $2,000 for her post-surgery care in Montreal. Doctors removed her male organs and created a vagina.
The Vancouver Sun’s first feature on Loyer was published one month after the operation, when she was still healing and had modest ambitions to live a more stable life.
Today, she says that it took her about six months to physically heal from the invasive surgery while she lived in Atira-supported housing in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. There were infections that required cleaning, extreme tenderness, and a daily routine of using dilators to ensure her new vagina wouldn’t close up.
And there are post-operation steps that will be necessary indefinitely. Attached to her stomach is a patch that supplies very large doses of estrogen, a female hormone that her body considers a foreign substance and tries to reject.
But, overall, she is elated with the outcome of the surgery. “I wake up in the morning and I’m happy that I don’t have to encounter a body that is what I had. That was one of the most horrible things in the shower and the washroom and getting dressed. And that is gone.”
Loyer does not wear makeup, jewelry or fancy clothes, but rather prefers basic, gender-neutral garb.
“I am happy with what I look like,” she said. “It’s not the outside that’s the problem. It’s the inside that is giving me the problems.”
In early 2019, Loyer was upgrading her high school credits at the South Hill Adult Education Centre in south Vancouver, but she was also still panhandling, which she found increasingly demeaning, to supplement her disability pension.
“I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be in school.”
Loyer appeared “isolated,” recalled Janice Abbott, the executive director of Atira, so she suggested Loyer open a drop-in for trans women. Atira offered space to hold the meetings, a small budget for food and communication, and the encouragement for Loyer to independently create a program that was needed in the Downtown Eastside.
“The trans community is complex, it’s not homogeneous in any shape or form. So I think that more opportunities for safe space in ways that trans women identify their own communities, I think that there needs to be more (of) that,” said Abbott, adding that Loyer’s drop-in is a low-key environment where people can make friends and share challenges.
“I think everyone in the Downtown Eastside needs an informal place, where you don’t have to come in and fill out a form that says I need social services. It’s a place to get a snack and have a cup of coffee and hang out for a couple of hours. And I think that’s part of what makes it beautiful.”
Beyond the Street trans drop-in
Loyer’s program, Beyond the Street, is among the first peer-led drop-ins for trans women in Vancouver. It has been holding two-hour sessions every Sunday afternoon since September.
It focuses on offering people help in three main areas: housing questions, such as dealing with transphobia while looking for an apartment or getting evicted; legal matters, such as how to change your name or marriage breakup help; and counselling issues, such as being trapped in a lifestyle that isn’t true to your identity. The program also offers fun activities like Thanksgiving dinner and movies.
“Sometimes trans women get stalled. Something happens and you stop. You can’t get anywhere, whether it’s housing or medical. The idea is to keep them going,” said Loyer.
The three-month-old drop-in has 12 regular attendees, but Loyer also helps women in other communities by phone or email.
She hopes the program can offer marginalized trans woman better options than they often faced in the past: “You end up on the street corner, or you end up in the alleys, or you break down and cry, or you suicide.
“We try to keep people from saying, ‘Oh well, this is what I get.’ Which is easy to think when you don’t have anybody saying anything different,” Loyer said.
Among Atira’s many social housing buildings, which accommodate more than 1,500 women and children every year in the Lower Mainland, up to 20 per cent of the adult female tenants identify as trans, depending on the building type and location, Abbott said.
Many trans women also use Atira’s SisterSpace, which is described as the first women-only overdose prevention site in Canada. Evaluation reports on Atira’s website quote trans women who say the “safe space” offers empathetic workers and an escape from transphobia.
Trans issues have increasingly been in the news. In a high-profile court case, a local father who opposes his transgender child’s pursuit of testosterone therapy fought lower-court decisions all the way to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
For Loyer, trans issues are not new. They’ve been bottled up inside of her for five decades. She hopes, though, that more attention will lead to increased acceptance.
Since her surgery in 2014, she said, her health has improved drastically. The hepatitis C she contracted in 1989 from intravenous drug use is now not detectable in her blood. She is drug-free and quit her 30-year smoking habit. She can walk without a cane, which she had used since her leg was broken in a nasty 2011 assault. Her sight has improved after a hole in her cornea, likely from a beating, was repaired. And she now weighs 165 pounds, up from the 109 she weighed when she arrived on Atira’s doorstep nearly nine years ago.
She no longer lives in supported housing, and has moved to a mixed-income Atira building where many of her neighbours have jobs and go to school. While B.C. Housing subsidizes her rent, Loyer must pay for utilities, internet, and other living expenses.
Perhaps she is most excited about the high school science and math courses she is taking to boost her marks so she can one day apply to the University of British Columbia for a combined degree in astronomy and physics. A downtown investment firm, who read about Loyer in 2014 in The Vancouver Sun, has told her it will pay for her tuition if she gets accepted to UBC.
But with that excitement also comes the fear of failure.
“I need to find a place to apply myself. But the science part I was really nervous about. I didn’t want to think that I could do something and find out that I made a total mess of it and lose confidence,” she said.
Loyer will need confidence to complete her academic goals. She has displayed confidence already, though, in the pursuit of her gender goals. And she has a favourite saying that has, in the past, given her courage and determination: It’s a song title from the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which she saw in Toronto in 1978 after she ran away from home, at age 16, so she could start living as a woman.
Q: You are described as a feminist geographer. What does that title mean to you?
A: It means that no matter what kind of space I’m looking at, I’m always concerned with power. This includes considering how any space functions to uphold (and in rare cases, challenge) the norms, values, and beliefs of the society that created and maintains it. As a feminist I pay particular attention to how gendered norms are “built into” spaces such as cities, but I also think about inclusion and exclusion more broadly across a wide range of identities and differences like ability, race, class, and sexuality.
Q: How do cities continue to marginalize women and make their daily lives more difficult?
A: Women remain under-represented in the professions and positions that shape cities: municipal politics, policy-making, business development, real estate development, architecture, and urban planning. A lack of consideration for women’s needs and ignorance of their daily experiences means that women struggle with everything from getting a stroller onto the bus to balancing their safety needs with their needs for affordable housing and good jobs.
How many women turn down or ignore employment opportunities that would require them to work or travel at night or in unsafe areas? How much money do women spend taking cabs or public transit rather than walking or biking? How many women see their careers stalled because they can’t effectively juggle parenthood and work in cities with too few/too expensive daycare spots, unreliable and inaccessible mass transit, and a lack of affordable housing near places of good employment?
Q: How can we begin to change our cities into more gender equal places?
A: One top-down approach is gender-mainstreaming: making sure all policy and spending decisions are oriented toward gender equity. Cities like Vienna have seen enormous progress with this method.
Issues such as safety and freedom from fear must be prioritized; public space and services must be safe and accessible; there should be communal or collective options for responsibilities such as child care, cooking, and care of the elderly and sick.
In a more radical way, though, we have to challenge the structures that make women responsible for most of this labour. A more gender equal city would offer affordable housing that doesn’t assume or prioritize a traditional nuclear family, for example.
Q: What are the foremost signs of a city’s livability?
A: Most people would agree that factors like walkability, green space, and safe public spaces are hallmarks of livability. I don’t disagree, but I think we have to ask harder questions about who has the means and the perceived right to enjoy these factors; who is excluded by surveillance and over-policing; and who decides what the appropriate activities and behaviours are in such spaces.
Q: What do you hope the individual and groups (government, planning departments, developers) in charge of cities take away from your book?
A: That moves made toward gender equity in cities are about more than making women’s lives “easier.” They are about fundamental issues of economic and social equality. At the same time, the changes I talk about are also connected to wider issues such as accessibility and environmental sustainability, and have the potential to benefit everyone in cities, not just women.
Q: How does gentrification fit into this story, this issue?
A: Women continue to experience a wage gap, are more likely to be single heads of household, have higher rates of core housing need (such as living in unsuitable or unaffordable housing), and are more reliant on the close urban connections between school, work, and home. As gentrification pushes housing costs up, women are further disadvantaged in the market. As women are displaced out of central areas, they are stretched thin trying to juggle their already complicated routines around work, home, and family.
Q: What kind of affect has #MeToo had, or will have, on making cities more livable?
A: #MeToo is exposing the widespread nature of all forms of sexual harassment and assault, including those in the urban public sphere, and illustrating that these are not momentary experiences: they have profound effects on women’s ability to participate in public life.
#MeToo is also helping to illuminate rape myths, including those that suggest that women are responsible for avoiding certain places and staying out of the public realm at night. The more we can continue having this conversation, the further we can move toward creating a public realm where women are equal and unafraid.
Q: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has long been a place of marginalized people and great unease. What do you see as vehicles for change and what can citizens do to help support that change?
A: I think anti-gentrification movements and the push to maintain affordable housing and a locus of social services in the DTES are key to creating a supportive yet livable neighbourhood. When people are well-housed, have access to harm-reduction sites and services, feel connected to community, and have their basic needs met, the things that make people uneasy start to fade away. Citizens can support the work of the DTES Women’s Centre, safe injection sites, and affordable housing campaigns.
Q: Let’s talk about public toilets. Why are they so terrible?
A: Not only are they terrible, but true public toilets are almost non-existent today. As part of many cities’ rush to revitalization, toilets have become focal points for fears about things like drug use, public sex, sex work, and homelessness.
Getting rid of public toilets or severely curtailing access is not only a harsh punishment for homelessness. It also makes life much more difficult for people with illnesses and disabilities that lead to frequent toilet use, for parents and caregivers, and for those who don’t have the means to purchase items in stores and cafes that have washrooms for customers only.
Q: When did headphones become armour for women?
A: Probably when the first Walkman appeared! Headphones are a subtle, non-aggressive way to signal the desire to be left alone. They can permit women to ignore men’s comments and questions without seeming rude or angry. Given that women are often faced with verbal and physical assault when they “hollaback” or even just ignore men, headphones offer a line of first defence against unwanted intrusions.
Q: How do we women learn to reframe how we think about our choices and instincts? How do we go from: “that was a stupid thing to do. I’m so lucky I wasn’t murdered,” to: “That was smart. That was brave?”
A: The “I’m so lucky” response is the only logical one in a world where violence against women is normalized, and even expected. I don’t blame anyone for having that reaction. Moving toward the “I made smart choices” response requires a greater respect for women’s agency and intelligence.Ideally, however, we have to move toward a world where violence against women, against anyone, is so rare that neither response is needed.
Gary Humchitt at Oppenheimer park in Vancouver, BC Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Nearly a hundred tents dot the landscape at the park which has pitted various levels of local government and agencies against each other as to how best handle the homeless encampment. Jason Payne / PNG
Calls will be made to Vancouver city council on Tuesday to create a new shelter, or rent a hotel, to house about 60 people who remain at the Oppenheimer Park tent city.
The first of two motions to council will be presented by COPE councillor and longtime anti-poverty advocate Jean Swanson.
The Oppenheimer Park camp in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside began in Oct. 2018 with a few tents and grew to 200 tents in early Aug. 2019.
On Aug. 19, Vancouver park board manager Malcolm Bromley ordered all tents/structures be removed within two days. At the same time, B.C. Housing made available to campers 123 B.C. Housing units, 11 City of Vancouver units and stated there were 60 shelter spaces available (some tent city residents have told Postmedia News that they would rather be in a tent than at a shelter.) A Supreme Court of B.C. injunction is required to remove campers by force, and as there was no injunction the remaining campers and their tents stayed in the park.
Last Thursday, during a presentation to Vancouver parks board by City of Vancouver deputy city manager Paul Mochrie, he stated that 130 campers accepted the housing offers, over half of whom were First Nations, and 34 per cent women.
Mochrie said that there were currently 120 tents on the site — between Powell Street to the north and East Cordova in the south, with Dunlevy Avenue on the west and Jackson Avenue to the east — with about 55 people still staying in the park who were in contact with city outreach workers. He said 40 were male, 14 female and one trans and noted “a small number of people have declined to identify themselves or are not interested in Outreach’s assistance.”
In her motion, Swanson calls for city staff and agencies to meet with residents “about an accessible alternative site that ensures health and safety, access to services and supports, and is acceptable and appropriate for people currently living in Oppenheimer Park. Swanson states the site needs a community kitchen, electricity, storage, toilets with running water and there be a warming tent in Oppenheimer Park.
She also calls for an emergency homelessness task force to be formed to look at buying or leasing one of more hotels for Oppenheimer Park residents.
It starts by stating “Vancouver is experiencing unprecedented housing and mental health and addiction issues,” and that “there are a significant number of persons living on the city’s streets, or out of their cars, due to the shortage of appropriately affordable housing who simply require access to shower and washroom facilities to support them on their path to permanent housing or employment.”
At last week’s park board meeting, commissioners heard that the number of people sleeping on the streets in Vancouver had risen almost 300 per cent since 2011 — to 614 in 2019.
In the motion, Wiebe and Dominato ask that Mayor Kennedy Stewart — who in early September unsuccessfully asked that parks board hand over the Oppenheimer Park file to the city — send a letter to parks board asking that the “current impasse” at the park be “resolved swiftly” for all concerned. They also want council to develop a decampment plan with the goal of “restoring the park for broad public use.”
The pair are also calling for council to direct staff to apply for provincial government funding “for the establishment of a low-barrier shelter in the city that can suitably address the specific needs of those currently encamped in Oppenheimer Park.”
The majority of councillors and mayor need to vote in favour of a motion to be passed, and often the motion is amended during the council meeting.
Vancouver’s council is comprised of an independent mayor, five from the Non-Partisan Association, three from the Green party and one from COPE.
The Vancouver park board has the power to apply for an injunction to end the tent city, but are not prepared to do that at this point. In 2014 the park board did use an injunction to end another homeless camp in Oppenheimer Park.
“It’s not about advertising for restaurants,” said Jenn Coe who created Food For All, the publishing the imprint for Food Stories, with her partner Sherwin Ngan.
“It is a story of hardship, and how that can inspire you to give back and nourish. These chefs all seem to come from a similar thread. Even if it isn’t a story of hardship it’s an experience or circumstance that motivated them day in and day out for 12 to 15 hour days. You’re feeding people, it is a beautiful thing, and it usually stems from some experience.”
The road to the publication began when the couple’s seven-year-old sons Quinn and Jonathan raised $20,000 for a family in need. The pair’s hard work and dedication inspired Coe and Ngan to start their publishing platform and to focus on the issue of food insecurity.
Sherwin and Coe then enlisted Vancouver’s Mark Brand, founder of A Better Life Foundation. They knew that Brand, the proprietor of Save-On Meats, believed food is a human right and that he was on the front lines when it came to the fight against food insecurity.
They asked to meet with Brand to talk about the book and the donation to his foundation. Also at that meeting last fall was Hakan Burcuoğlu, the founder of the blog/online magazine The Curatorialist. He had been with Brand earlier to take pictures for his blog and Brand had suggested he come along to the meeting.
“He told me that a couple of good Samaritans founded a publishing company and wanted to publish a book for his foundation,” said Burcuoğlu.
Soon Burcuoğlu found himself volunteering to write and shoot the project free of charge, and dove right in with his own recipe for the type of cookbook he wanted to own and read.
“I own a lot of cookbooks, and I have some personal bones to pick with compilation cookbooks specifically because I feel the common denominator for compilation cookbooks is just all these chefs are from the same city,” said Burcuoğlu.
“There’s nothing that threads it otherwise. There is no monofilament that threads all these stories. It’s kind of arbitrary, so I wanted to create a compilation cookbook where it would be something more special. The sentiment, the feeling that threads this book is that of intimacy. It’s of private heartfelt memories. It’s of poignance. Some chefs featured in the book have shared very, very private memories.”
Some of those stories include the topics of transitioning and coming out.
“The vision was always to create something that transcended being a mere object of charity,” said Burcuoğlu.
“We wanted it to be literature. We wanted it to be artful. We wanted it to be colourful. Lots of good pictures … the human aspect of this business.”
The stories are interesting and the pictures are lovely and as comfortable as the food. Nothing in Food Stories screams stylists have been here.
“These recipes are not arbitrary; these recipes are from their own childhood, from their own providence,” said Burcuoğlu. “Every single recipe from every chef holds a tremendous place in their hearts and minds. They mean the world to these chefs.”
This is a charitable endeavour that hopes to help out the ever-increasing problem of food insecurity.
“There are people like me who were single moms living in basement suites who are getting decent salaries but still not enough to live in Vancouver in particular,” said Coe.
“Those are the things that don’t meet the eye. It’s not the Downtown Eastside that’s really dramatic and shocking, it’s your everyday people that you wouldn’t expect that are sending their kid off to school with some crackers in their lunch box that’s it. They are going malnourished, and that leads to mental health and that leads to health care dollars. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Coe says the long-term goal is for Food For All to expand the book model into other cities and communities across North America.
“That would be so great,” Coe said.
Artichoke Cakes and Mushrooms with Vegan Hollandaise
Created by chef Kadieann Tighe
1 can (400g) artichoke hearts, drained
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 cup (250 mL) panko breadcrumbs
1/8 cup (30 mL) whole wheat flour
4 cloves garlic, divided
1 tbsp (15 mL) chives, chopped
1/4 tsp (1 mL) Old Bay seasoning
Salt, to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying
2 king oyster mushrooms, cleaned, tops removed
Extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs thyme
Black pepper, freshly cracked, to taste
1 1/2 tbsp (22.5 mL) vegan butter
1 tbsp (15 mL) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) almond milk, or other non-dairy milk
1 pinch turmeric
1 tsp (5 mL) lemon juice
1.2 tsp (2.5 mL) nutritional yeast
Artichoke Cakes: In a food processor, pulse together the artichoke hearts, celery, bread crumbs, flour, 2 cloves garlic, herbs and spices. Stop periodically to scrape down the sides to blend evenly. Leave mixture in a chunky consistency, do not over blend. Season with salt to taste.
Divide mixture into 4 equal parts to form patties. Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook patties on each side for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until they form a brown crust.
Mushrooms: Cut mushroom stems into 5 cm chunks and soak overnight in a bowl of warm water. Remove from water and pat dry.
Heat a medium sized skillet over medium — high heat. Pour in oil to cover the pan. Add thyme and lightly mashed garlic. Place mushrooms in the skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown in colour.
Vegan Hollandaise Sauce: Melt butter in a small pot over low heat. Once melted, add the flour, and whisk to make a roux. Slowly pour in about half the milk, whisking constantly. Then add the rest of the ingredients, while continuing to whisk. Once satisfied with the thickness and colour of the sauce, remove from heat. Set aside.
To serve: Portion cakes and mushrooms onto two plates. Drizzle the sauce generously over the artichoke cakes and enjoy.
Tips: The artichoke mixture can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. For the artichoke cakes, you can blend the panko crumbs in the food processor and coat the patties before frying to give them a crispier texture.
Created by chef Juno Kim
1 cup (250 mL) dehydrated mushrooms
Water, as needed
3 cups (750 mL) fresh mushrooms, any variety, sliced
3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil or grapeseed oil, divided
Smoked paprika or black pepper, freshly cracked, to taste
2 tbsp (30 mL) plain yogurt, for garnish
Toasted bread crumbs or croutons, for garnish
Soak dehydrated mushrooms in warm water and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot over medium — high heat. Pour in 2 tbsp (30 mL) of oil and add in the fresh mushrooms. Cook until golden brown in colour.
Add onion, garlic, along with the remaining oil, thyme, and vinegar. Salt liberally. Cook until onions become soft and translucent. Add hydrated mushrooms, along with their soaking liquid, into the mixture.
Cook for 2 minutes, then pour in the stock. Season with salt to taste. Lower heat, bring mixture to a simmer and leave to cook for 20 minutes. Once cooked, ladle half of the soup into a blender and purée until smooth. Return contents to the pot and combine well.
Taste and season with salt, paprika and lemon juice. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of yogurt, bread crumbs and lemon zest.
Tip: When serving, add seared fresh mushrooms on top of the soup for a special touch.
As of today, Karly has been clean and sober for 30 days after four years of battling addiction.
Addiction made the 17-year-old from Chiliwack vulnerable to exploitation and bullying. It disrupted her schooling, left her psychotic, suicidal, near death and unable to care for her year-old baby.
“In addiction, I never thought I could be this happy without drugs,” she said earlier this week.
“There’s obviously times when I’m feeling like I don’t want to live any more. But I realize a lot of people do care for me, and it would hurt a lot of people if I did leave.”
Up until now, Karly didn’t worry that fentanyl laced in the cocaine, crystal meth and other street drugs she’s used might kill her, as it has more than 4,000 other British Columbians in the past four years.
“Honestly, I just thought I wasn’t going to get that wrong batch. I thought I could trust my dealers. Now, I’m starting to realize the risk. I was using alone. It’s pretty scary now that I think about it.
“I could have overdosed, my poor son he would have had no mom.”
But Karly’s recovery is at risk because the B.C. government is refusing to pay for her treatment. The question of why was bounced from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, back to addictions, then back to MCFD, and finally to Fraser Health over two days.
Friday afternoon, MCFD responded that due to privacy concerns it could not discuss the specifics of the case.
The spokesperson did confirm that the government pays for youth residential treatment. Funds are allocated by the health ministry to regional health authorities. MCFD social workers are supposed to refer youth and families to the health authority, which is supposed to do the assessments and placements.
Reached late Friday afternoon, Fraser Health said that it does not have provincial funding for youth beds at Westminster House, where Karly is getting treatment, only adult beds.
Postmedia editors and I are also concerned about Karly’s privacy and vulnerability. For that reason, we are not using her real name, or that of her mother.
On July 10, her mother Krista found Karly white-faced and barely breathing on the floor. It was a moment she had been bracing for since 2015.
Krista, who is a nurse, didn’t need the naloxone kit that she keeps at the ready. She shook Karly awake and got her into the car to take her to Surrey Creekside Withdrawal Management Centre.
En route, Karly flailed about, kicking in the glove box, banging her head against the window and screaming.
“She was in psychosis. She was not my child,” Krista said. “It took six nurses and two doctors to get her inside.”
At 9 p.m, Karly called her mom to say that if they didn’t let her out, she was going to escape, prostitute myself and get enough money to kill herself.
“I felt in my heart that she was really going to do it.”
Panicked, Krista called Susan Hogarth, Westminster House’s executive director, and begged for help. Westminster House is a residential treatment centre for women, with four designated youth beds in New Westminster.
Even though it was past midnight, Hogarth agreed to take Karly.
“We can’t not put a child somewhere,” Hogarth said this week.
The cost for treatment at Westminster House is $9,000 a month, meaning Krista needs $27,000 to pay for the three months of treatment that counsellors say Karly needs to be stabilized enough to go into second-stage care.
The crucial first month of treatment was covered using donations from individuals, and Hockey for the Homeless.
Now there are bills to be paid.
Krista’s only contact with the government has been through MCFD. A social worker helped Karly get mental health services, pre- and post-natal care and helped Krista gain guardianship of her year-old grandson last month.
It’s the social worker who told the family that the government would pay for a 10-week, co-ed live-in treatment program at Vancouver’s Peak House, but not Westminster House.
But Krista and Westminster House’s director believe a co-ed program that has no trauma counselling is not a good fit for Karly.
The only other option suggested was outpatient treatment. But Karly’s already tried and failed at that. Besides, her dealer lives two blocks from their home.
If Karly was an adult on welfare, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction would pay $30.90 a day for her room and board in residential care.
Bizarrely, Krista said the social worker suggested maybe Karly could just wait a year and then her treatment would be fully covered.
“This is f–ing BS. I can’t wait until she’s older. She’ll be dead,” said Krista, who has had her own problems with addiction. An alumni of Westminster House, she is four years into recovery.
Concerns about how to pay for Karly’s treatment in addition to caring for Karly’s baby and Karly’s younger sister are wearing heavily on Krista. She’s had to take a medical leave from her job, and is worried about how she will pay her rent.
She’s already spent four years in a constant state of readiness in case Karly overdoses. There’s naloxone in the house. The razors are hidden because “Karly cuts, cuts.” Every time Karly took a bath, Krista stood apprehensively by the door because her daughter had threatened to drown herself.
“She is doing amazing,” Krista said. “The first time I saw her was 15 to 16 days in, and she had colour in her cheeks and they were my kid’s eyes, beautiful brown . . .
“When I brought her son to see her, her smile so genuine. I had not seen it in so many years. The smile was what I remember of her as a kid.”
Hogarth wonders why the government can’t look at the bigger picture of what Karly’s untreated addiction might cost — from more overdoses to her mother’s fragile state to the fate of her son.
Everybody, Hogarth said, deserves a chance at recovery and not just harm reduction interventions.
“Karly is not the easiest client in the world,” she said with a laugh. “But she’s worth it because we want her to go home to her son and to be able to raise him.”
For now, the non-profit Westminster House is covering Karly’s costs with donations augmented by a GoFundMe campaign organized by Krista’s friends.
But it can’t do that forever, or without more donations.
As for Karly, for the first time in years she’s thinking about a future. She won’t be ready to start school in September, but plans to go back as soon as she can for Grade 12 and then go on to study so that she can work in health care.
Council earlier this month approved a motion directing city and park board staff to work together to provide 24-hour washroom access, storage facilities and a temporary warming station in or near Oppenheimer Park. The Downtown Eastside park has had, by some estimates, between 80 and 100 homeless people bedding down in tents each night in recent months, including through last month’s cold and snowy weather.
The council motion was introduced by COPE Coun. Jean Swanson, who says that in her four decades of anti-poverty work in the Downtown Eastside, she has never seen as many campers living in the park in snowy conditions as this year.
“For heaven’s sake, we have all those people living there, and they have no place to pee at night,” Swanson said Monday. “That is a public health nightmare.”
The city council motion, approved March 14, followed a similar motion approved on March 11 by the Vancouver park board, directing park board and city staff to work together to provide supports in Oppenheimer Park.
Those additional supports were not yet in place as of Monday, the City of Vancouver wrote in an emailed statement Monday, and “city staff are still determining the timeline and next steps for implementing the direction from the council motion.”
The original language of Swanson’s motion, which she tried to introduce last month, directed city staff to work with B.C. Housing “to rent a hotel or motel to house the Oppenheimer Park patrons.” But other councillors amended the motion this month to replace the words “rent a hotel or motel” with “continue to explore ways to fund temporary and/or permanent accommodations, with appropriate support services.”
Over the years, groups of varying sizes have camped in Oppenheimer Park, including a tent city that grew to as many as 200 tents in the fall of 2014. But the number of campers there this winter was thought to be a record high for the time of year, said Fiona York, a coordinator with the Carnegie Community Action Project, which supported Swanson’s motion.
York said Monday she had counted 42 tents in the park over this past weekend, many of which could be shared by two or three campers.
Last week, the Coroners Service released a report showing that in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the province had 175 deaths of homeless people, a 140 per cent increase over 2015. The city of Vancouver had a 250 per cent increase in deaths of homeless people in that period.
In 2016, 53 per cent of deaths of homeless people resulted from unintentional drug and/or alcohol poisoning, an increase over previous years. B.C.’s chief health officer declared a public health emergency in April 2016 over the surging number of drug overdoses, mostly linked to fentanyl.
Since 2017, Vancouver’s modular housing program has provided homes for 606 people who had been facing homelessness, using funding from the provincial government.
Many activists, including Swanson, have said the modular housing is a welcome addition, but the need far outstrips the supply.
The most recent Metro Vancouver homeless count found 3,605 people homeless in the region, up 30 per cent from the previous count in 2014. The City of Vancouver’s own count last year found 2,181 homeless residents in the city proper.