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Mayor says tents must go, but staff navigate more delicately with Occupy campers

October 28th, 2011 · 1 Comment

After Mayor Gregor Robertson said earlier this week that the Occupy Vancouver movement has a right to protest, but not to a permanent camp, I did the reporterly thing of calling to find out what was happening at ground level.

My story here describes that, although not completely. I had heard that deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston had been down to the site, talking to campers about the issue of leaving but he was out of town and unavailable for a call and no one else seemed to know what was going on.

However, I was told, after my story was filed, that there are staff working to try to establish lines of communication and talk about the long=term plans.

As I alluded to briefly in my story, past camps (Woodward’s, homeless camps outside Science World and elsewhere, in 2002, 2003, 2004) were not taken down easily.

People who managed to do it, like Mark Townsend from the Portland Hotel Society, say it took a lot of time to establish links and to figure out who the real leaders are. (Everyone I’ve talked to about all of this says that, no matter how leaderless a protest may look or say it is, there are always people who are de-facto leaders.)

It was also important to keep police presence to a minimum while that was going on, in order to prevent protesters from feeling threatened and escalating the possibility of conflict.

The Woodsquat protest was eventually resolved when the city opened up more than 100 units of housing at the Stanley/New Fountain, giving some people on the sidewalks a place to go, and the rest didn’t protest when their stuff was packed up.

The homeless camp at Science World was handled slightly differently. People were offered housing and the camp was slowly reduced until only a small group was left that became the target of criminal activity. Police then moved in to clear out that much diminished camp.

Obviously, offering housing is not a solution here. Staff have found very few homeless people at the site.

So they, like city officials elsewhere, are trying to figure out what will work: simply letting cold, wet weather do its attrition work? asking people to leave once another pre-booked group needs to use the space (that’s happening in, I think, Calgary)? persistently harassing them about health and safety regulations until it becomes no fun? letting the group start to fray and splinter internally, as we’ve seen some signs of in Vancouver? coming to an agreement about an end date?

Everyone’s looking for the answer, especially after the attempt to clear out the Oakland protest resulted in national stories about teargas and violence, an apology from the mayor and the resignation of the police chief.

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