Despite a highly publicized death and near-fatal drug overdose, Occupy Vancouver is not a wild and crazy place to stay, according to those who do their best to maintain order at the large encampment in the city’s downtown.
The biggest problem is drunks who wander by when downtown bars close, and even they are not too much of a hassle, said Trevor Walper, an entry-level paramedic in the site’s first-aid tent.
“People from wild parties sometimes want to come in here and party,” Mr. Walper said. “But basically it’s pretty peaceful. People are sleeping. It was a little nutty over Halloween, but this past weekend was very quiet. I slept well.”
Apart from the recent incidents, he said there have been no serious medical issues among the 80 or so tenters who sleep there regularly.
“We’ve gone through about a $1,000 worth of stockpiled stuff, mostly for flu, cold medicine, bandages and things to keep people warm,” he said.
As well, the city’s supervised injection site, Insite, has provided clean needles and alcohol wipes, if needed by addicts. Volunteers were reluctant to say how many needles have been distributed.
Jacques Benoit, a member of the tent city’s peacekeeping force, said there have been occasional problems, noting one incident when a tenter started setting off fireworks to celebrate his birthday.
“He did one, and then we had to remove him from the property. It wasn’t easy,” Mr. Benoit said. “We’re like a family. There are little flare-ups.”
Mr. Benoit, who camps at the site, said the occupation knows it is under intense scrutiny from the public and the media.
“We can’t afford to make one mistake,” he said. “There’s a double standard. If something happens here, people react more to it than if it occurred anywhere else.”
He said site peacekeepers are on the job around the clock. “We try to be where the trouble is, and we try to end it,” he said.
There is no declared ban on drugs and alcohol, but use of both is discouraged, said Mr. Benoit, who has clearance to use marijuana for medical reasons. “We tolerate some marijuana. Why would we oppose that?”
As for sleeping conditions, he said disruption is minimal during the night. “Last night, I had a new thick blanket, and I slept like a baby,” he said.
Police patrol the tent city 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Constable Lindsey Houghton said Monday.
So far, there have been few incidents, no arrests and nothing requiring a criminal investigation, he said.
“At night, between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., it’s a pretty quiet place, aside from the humming of a generator or two. People hunker down and try to keep warm,” Constable Houghton said.
He said there are likely drugs and alcohol on site “just like anywhere else in the city.”
A member of city hall’s social services staff who has paid regular visits to Occupy Vancouver said the encampment is attracting a number of street people, but not that many permanently homeless. “It’s cold, it’s wet, but it’s been very quiet, at least so far,” the staff member said.
Anthony Mayfield, a media volunteer for the protesters, said the site has no more problems than other areas in the city where there are social concerns.
“People see this as a place … where there’s free food and they won’t be bothered by the cops,” Mr. Mayfield said. “Here they can sleep in a happy environment. The issues that arise are illustrative of the issues that arise in society.”
With a report from Aleksandra Sagan