The B.C. Coroners Service is investigating the death of a man at the Oppenheimer Park "tent city" in East Vancouver.
The body of a man – believed to be 69 years old though not positively identified as of Wednesday afternoon – was discovered inside one of the tents late in the morning, according to Vancouver police. There was no apparent or obvious cause of death, but it is not believed to be suspicious, police said.
The discovery came on the same day as a court-imposed deadline for campers to clear the site. Last week, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted the city an injunction to dismantle the tent city, saying the campers were violating city bylaws.
Justice Jennifer Duncan gave the 100 to 150 remaining campers a one-week window, telling them to vacate by 10 p.m. Wednesday.
At a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Gregor Robertson said the death "demonstrates why tent camps are not safe, why the city's had great concerns about this camp continuing to be there."
The city has moved more than 100 of the campers to shelters and housing, Mr. Robertson said, and more than 400 housing units will open up by the end of the year.
"There is a lot of housing becoming available and we are hopeful that we see a peaceful resolution of this, and tents coming down … and people being moved into the shelter spaces that are available and then transitioning into housing as those buildings open up," he said.
About a handful of people supportive of the tent city attended the mayor's news conference to voice their displeasure. Misty Ferguson, a volunteer at the site, said afterward that people choose to camp in the park because it offers more security than the shelter and single-room-occupancy (SRO) options offered.
"There are people staying in the park because it's safer than an SRO, where there are pedophiles and molesters," she said. "They moved out of the SRO to [the] tent city because they were protected and safe there."
The encampment sprang up in July, when dozens of people set up tents to highlight a lack of affordable housing in the city. At its peak, there were more than 200 tents, with up to double as many people.
In September, the city took legal action to dismantle the tent city, citing health and safety concerns, as well as bylaw infractions.
NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe, speaking at a Vancouver Board of Trade event on Wednesday and in a media scrum after, said the camp had been "brutally handled."
"I don't think as mayor that encampment would have happened under me," he said, before learning of the man's death.
Asked for what he thought the city had done wrong: "It didn't begin with a conversation. There isn't a genuine conversation taking place with the homeless and their supporters."
Mr. LaPointe said Mr. Robertson was just trying desperately to make the problem go away between now and the Nov. 15 civic election. He also said the mayor had deceived people by saying he would end street homelessness by 2015.
Frances Bula is a freelance writer