By David P. Ball
Don Larson says the raging controversy and neighbour tensions around Strathcona tent city could have been avoided — if the city of Vancouver had done more when homeless campers were on port lands.
The founder of the Downtown Eastside's beloved CRAB Park blames the City of Vancouver and mayor for not doing more to help homeless campers who were evicted from the harbour side public green space during a double health emergency: the worsening overdose crisis and COVID-19 pandemic.
Don Larson, founder of CRAB Water for Life Society, said the encampment should have been allowed to stay until a long-term housing solution could have been found — instead of being evicted under a Supreme Court of B.C. injunction sought by the federal government's port authority.
The 48 people arrested in June during the camp's eviction continue fighting charges of criminal contempt of court, and Larson has attended the latest hearings as last week.
"Many of the people at the encampment were homeless, they had no other place to go," Larson said. "June 16, when the cops came in, has been called a dark day in Vancouver history.
"Where were the Mayor and Council to tell the police, 'Hey, that is not really your role to be doing that.'"
Now, that displaced camp relocated in Strathcona Park, sparking controversy and tensions with local neighbours outside the DTES. By contrast, CRAB park has no immediate residential or commercial neighbours because it is north of the railway tracks from Gastown, Railtown and the DTES.
"The port made a big deal that, 'We can't have these campers down there in our parking lot, which is almost always empty, because of COVID,'" Larson said. "Meanwhile the same port people were publicly putting pressure on Dr. Bonnie Henry and others to have cruise ships come in this summer, even though you'd see on the news every other day a cruise ship with COVID people on it."
Larson recalled that in fact this year's homeless encampment isn't the first such protest tent city to be held at the location where June's arrests occurred.
"Back in June 1984, the idea came out and a small group of us were down there," recalled Larson in an interview with The Pulse on CFRO. "There was no park, there wasn't even any landfill — it was all under water — but there was a place you could sit down on an asphalt wall.
"In 1984, we were all much younger … we were camping down there, Veronica myself and about 50 other people in tents. This is not the first time, but nobody talks about our camp-in, it doesn't seem to be on the record. But we camped on almost the same spot as the people who were arrested on the CRAB Park parking lot."
On The Pulse on CFRO, he talked in-depth about CRAB Park's Downtown Eastside history amidst ongoing homeless camp legal fallout — including a little-known history lesson on a previous tent city protest near the same site as today's, but in the 1980s.