On an errand, we felt the need to be outside near the sea. The closest opportunity was CRAB Park (see here). We hadn’t planned on visiting a homeless encampment but did that too. I seriously recommend the experience. Also I got pleasant pictures to accompany the story.
CRAB is the nearest green waterfront to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside which means some of the people you see have been considerably damaged by what we call “civilization”, and show it. it’s also real close to the Port of Vancouver, third-largest in North America and biggest in Canada (only 29th in the world). Thus these views:
Some parts of the port seem remarkably ad-hoc.
Homelessness · I saw a cluster of tents in an adjoining parking lot. In Vancouver that means homeless people, which is a little scary to a nice-neighborhood greybeard like me even without Covid-19 maybe lurking where you’re not looking. But this one had a fire burning and signs on display. Feeling an open-for-visitors vibe, I wandered in.
A tiny dog ran up to me, eager for a sniff at my hand. After we’d made friends a nice lady came up, tucked the dog into her shirt, and told me a whole lot about what was going on. She started by saying I could make an offering at their fire with tobacco, which was provided, so I did. The cedar-and-tobacco smoke smelt great. Here’s the bench by the fire.
I wish I’d asked her name. I make no claim to a deeper understanding than anyone reading this, so I’m just going to enumerate what I heard as I listened.
Sometime in 2019 the BC government transferred the homeless file from a social-services ministry to the law-and-order ministry, and this has not been helpful.
The encampments have inclusion levels depending, among other things, on their tolerance for alcohol or other intoxicants. I didn’t learn the level of the one I was at.
A couple of rope-thin white guys were breaking up skinny pieces of metal. It seemed like hard work but they were cracking jokes. I don’t know what they were doing with them.
People die in these communities, but rarely. An occasional overdose and recently a 51-year old who went to sleep and didn’t wake up. “People without a home have a life expectancy roughly half of people who do”, she pointed out.
There are a lot of indigenous people here, but also a lot who aren’t.
A guy walked up smiling with a bunch of plastic on a dolly and told her “Three tarps, they wanted sixty bucks and I had seventy, so I threw in an extra ten. Now you owe me $10.” She said “I’ll take care of it.” Still smiling: “S’ok, you don’t need to.”
The provincial government is trying to get the homeless out of tents and into hotels. But they want to take the 65-plus and otherwise-vulnerable first. Then, they need an actual legal name; but suppose you have mental-health and/or legal issues (for both reasons, you might not be in a position to offer that kind of name) and/or you aren’t 65 yet? Well, you’re probably in a tent at CRAB park or equivalent.
I couldn’t help but be conscious of the big black SUV labeled “Port of Vancouver Police” (I may have the wording wrong) at the far end of the parking lot, a silhouette visible in the front seat. Since the port is well-known to be gang-infested, you have to worry about what their cops are like.
Some of the people have dementia (not always age-related). They do the best they can.
There were canvas rain-covers set up with cases of fresh-water bottles available and other stuff I didn’t check out. The Portland Hotel Society helps out, I gather, as do other community members. I think I’m going to have to visit and drop some things off. But if it’s like most distressed-community situations, money is most helpful.
Walking away · Suddenly one of Vancouver’s biggest problems had moved out of the “abstract” category in my mind. I found I had trouble speaking because I didn’t know how to process the input.
I could still take pictures though, where the park met the port.
If you’re a photographer, or just want to get closer to the edge of your comfort zone and meet people who could use your help, I strongly recommend a visit to CRAB park.