Tuesday, June 22, 2010

FEAR of the UNWASHED in our CITY?

Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC

FEAR of the UNWASHED in our CITY?

There has been conflict arising from the Vancouver Park Board plans to close Grandview Park for one year as they embark on the re-development of this popular east end park.

This park has been home to a number of homeless people and they are quite upset that they are being pushed out of their homes. A number of these vulnerable citizens feel safe in this park which has a longstanding history of harmonious culture.

Enter Darrell Zimmerman, a homeless individual who plays the saxophone. I got to know Darrell in 2002 when we were both involved in a Headlines Theatre project. While Darrell can be annoying and sometimes difficult, he doesn't though in my opinion pose a danger to anyone. In fact Mr Zimmerman often attended council meetings but then Mayor now Senator Larry Campbell often cajoled Mr Zimmerman and showed his softer side when dealing or being confronted by Darrell.

A few weeks back Darrell showed up at a Park board meeting and he was quite animated when a speaker made remarks concerning Grandview Park. The speaker obviously had a differing opinion than Mr Zimmerman's and sparks flew. Darrell began cursing and swearing and called an approaching Park ranger Yogiberra. He was evicted from the meeting.

At last night's meeting of Park board Darrell was outside the Park board offices. He saw Commissioner Loretta Woodcock getting out of her car and apparently began engaging Ms Woodcock near the entrance to the Park board building . Ms Woodcock claims Mr Zimmerman attempted to stop her entry into the meeting and somehow the end result was Mr Zimmerman being arrested.

I picked up on this story today after Georgia Straight reporter Matt Burrows wrote an account of the happenings on the online version of the Straight.

The Georgia Straight story though confuses me.

In it Commissioner Woodcock states she has never been threatened before and this implies there was a threat made. See http://www.straight.com I contacted Commissioner Woodcock today and asked her why Mr Zimmerman wasn't charged with uttering threats and her answer was because he didn't. Also something else significant is missing from this story and that is another Commissioner, the Vice Chair of the Board Sarah Blyth went outside and talked at length to Mr Zimmerman.

If Mr Zimmerman was so out of control as this article seems to present why did the Vice-Chair stay outside with him for so long? In fact, was he ever really a threat?

Mr Zimmerman was charged with mischief and causing a disturbance. Commissioner Woodcock in the article claims Mr Zimmerman keyed her car but in fact she did not witness this.

This man is homeless and is obviously agitated because he is being forced from his home in Grandview Park and perhaps he is acting out irrationally probably due to great stress but shouldn't we have some compassion for our homeless?

As re-development increases in our City we will see more of this conflict and everybody deserves to be heard regardless of status in society. Hurling insults or swearing isn't the preferred way of engaging public officials but our homeless are in survival mode and somehow we need to make allowances for their sometimes erratic behavior in order that they be heard.

I sincerely hope that this Park board doesn't become fearful of the unwashed in our City and further denies them the right to be heard.

Jamie Lee Hamilton