For residents of Vancouver’s Crab Park homeless camp, the name Fiona York has some positive connotations.

“Humanitarian,” said resident Josh Beauchamp. “She’s just a good person. She goes out of her way to come here and stay here to help people.”

“She’s selfless,” said compatriot Clint Randen on a rainy day in mid-December. “The only complaint I have is that she should go home more often… we don’t want her to get sick.”

Looking at her schedule, it’s no surprise that people care about her well-being.

An encampment is pictured near Crab Park on June 16, 2020. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Depending on who you ask, York spends 40 or more hours a week volunteering at Crab Park. The days – or rather the afternoons and evenings that she typically works – are long, often spanning 10 to 12 hours and involving everything from coordinating volunteers to advocating for residents and spending time talking to residents. residents of their needs.

This is in addition to her part-time job as an assistant.

About 35 people live in Crab Park, located east of the Vancouver Convention Center on Burrard Inlet.

“I kind of decided that I would be here until the end – until it’s over,” said York, whose work dates back to the previous iteration of the camp at Strathcona Park. “Whatever happens here in this community, I just feel like I want to be a part of it.”

In November, the Vancouver Park Board sought a court injunction to remove residents from the site. It has not yet been granted.

Connecting homeless communities

York’s efforts have caught the attention of other homeless advocates in B.C. who say his intimate knowledge of park residents, as well as the systems perpetuating the problem, help him advocate for his interests as a different way from other non-profit organizations.

Prince George homeless lawyer Amelia Merrick, left, visited York, right, and residents of Crab Park in November. (Courtesy of Amelia Merrick)

“The work the government previously did for social safety nets in Canada is now being imposed on our nonprofits and service agencies,” said Prince George homeless advocate Amelia Merrick, who is completing a PhD on the Changing Roles of Non-Profits in Canada with the University of Toronto.

“They also don’t have the political structure, often, to be able to make the kinds of changes needed for something like the homelessness crisis,” she said. “This is where I look at someone like Fiona and… she is such an inspiration to me because she is able to express herself and she recognizes that her position is to help the residents of Crab Park to do so. hear.”

Solidarity

Sometimes that means amplifying the message so that it reaches homeless residents in other communities.

When a British Columbia Supreme Court judge ruled in October that the Moccasin Flats camp in Prince George would be allowed to stay due to a lack of suitable alternatives, Merrick and York organized an appeal. video between the two camps as a sign of solidarity.

“People often say that homelessness is about choice,” York said. “But when you see it’s a systemic problem, that clears it up… Knowing that it makes people stronger.”

Crab Park resident Clint Randen says her only complaint about York is that she isn’t getting enough rest. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza / CBC)

It is not known to what extent the homeless crisis has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December, the city of Vancouver announced it was canceling its 2022 homeless count, citing the challenges of the pandemic and the need to minimize the risk of transmission. The 2021 tally has also been canceled.

In 2020, survey data collected by volunteers over a 24-hour period in March counted 3,634 homeless people in Metro Vancouver, a slight increase from the previous tally in 2017. This report also revealed that people who identify as black were disproportionately represented among homeless people in Metro Vancouver. population.

Meanwhile, a province-wide tally in 2018 revealed 160 homeless people in Prince George.

Eleven years after working as a lawyer, York says it’s “personal relationships” that keep her going.

“Sometimes I feel like the whole system or the whole state is going backwards and making things worse, but I see some small progress,” she said. “There are changes happening.”