A man has been found dead outside a tent at Vancouver’s Strathcona Park encampment. It’s the first death at the tent city.
Police say the death does not appear to be suspicious and the coroner will investigate.
The person who called 911 to report the man’s death said they had been told by another resident a man was lying dead under a blanket. When that person, who The Tyee has agreed not to name, approached the tent and lifted the blanket, they discovered the body.
“I was told that there was a dead man here — and sure enough he was dead,” the person who found the man told The Tyee, adding it was an upsetting and shocking experience.
The man appeared to be a middle-aged Indigenous man, but camp residents were not sure of his name. He was found lying on his back outside of a tent, covered by a beige blanket. Ambulance and police both attended the scene around 11 a.m. Sunday morning.
The tent city has been located at Strathcona Park since June. It formed after a tent city that had existed at Oppenheimer Park for two years was closed by the city and the province in May, and most residents housed in hotel rooms and other housing.
Camp organizers say the tent city is needed because it provides more safety than being homeless alone in the city. But there have been several disturbing assaults that left two young men severely injured.
Carl Sinclair had to have one leg amputated after a serious assault in late September; police said he was left on the ground for around 12 hours during the day before anyone called for help. In October, Adam Blackburn was stabbed and suffered a serious injury to his foot, according to Global News. He was attacked in his tent and was later found bleeding on Raymur Avenue near the park.
Another man, Peter Portoundo, was stabbed in the arm when he encountered a man who had previously been banned from the camp.
Camp organizers have asked the city to provide showers and other amenities to make life in the camp more comfortable. But they’ve also made it clear that city outreach staff are unwelcome in the encampment, city staff have told council. Instead, outreach workers from Portland Hotel Society Community Services have been working in the camp.
Residents who live near Strathcona Park have begged the city to move the camp, house people or construct an emergency relief shelter. In early October, council considered several options, including creating one or more managed encampments, trying tiny home villages or a sanctioned site for RVs to park permanently.
Vancouver city council opted to try to buy or lease hotel rooms or apartment buildings — an option that provides the highest quality housing, but takes more time to put in place.
Now two months later, at least 200 tents are still located in the park.
The number of people living on the street in B.C. cities and towns grew as COVID-19 restrictions came into place, as many supportive housing providers banned guests and some drop-in spaces closed. In the Downtown Eastside, many drop-in spaces are open again, but with reduced capacity to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Reduced capacity at shelters also means that there are 379 fewer shelter spots open in Vancouver this winter compared to 2019.
The number of overdoses has also skyrocketed during the pandemic, as drugs have grown more toxic and people have stayed away from overdose prevention sites.