Calls will be made to Vancouver city council on Tuesday to create a new shelter, or rent a hotel, to house about 60 people who remain at the Oppenheimer Park tent city.
The first of two motions to council will be presented by COPE councillor and longtime anti-poverty advocate Jean Swanson.
Swanson’s motion is called Emergency Action to Support Vancouver’s Homeless People, Including Those in Oppenheimer Park and states that there are no more B.C. Housing units available to remaining campers.
The Oppenheimer Park camp in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside began in Oct. 2018 with a few tents and grew to 200 tents in early Aug. 2019.
On Aug. 19, Vancouver park board manager Malcolm Bromley ordered all tents/structures be removed within two days. At the same time, B.C. Housing made available to campers 123 B.C. Housing units, 11 City of Vancouver units and stated there were 60 shelter spaces available (some tent city residents have told Postmedia News that they would rather be in a tent than at a shelter.) A Supreme Court of B.C. injunction is required to remove campers by force, and as there was no injunction the remaining campers and their tents stayed in the park.
Last Thursday, during a presentation to Vancouver parks board by City of Vancouver deputy city manager Paul Mochrie, he stated that 130 campers accepted the housing offers, over half of whom were First Nations, and 34 per cent women.
Mochrie said that there were currently 120 tents on the site — between Powell Street to the north and East Cordova in the south, with Dunlevy Avenue on the west and Jackson Avenue to the east — with about 55 people still staying in the park who were in contact with city outreach workers. He said 40 were male, 14 female and one trans and noted “a small number of people have declined to identify themselves or are not interested in Outreach’s assistance.”
In her motion, Swanson calls for city staff and agencies to meet with residents “about an accessible alternative site that ensures health and safety, access to services and supports, and is acceptable and appropriate for people currently living in Oppenheimer Park. Swanson states the site needs a community kitchen, electricity, storage, toilets with running water and there be a warming tent in Oppenheimer Park.
She also calls for an emergency homelessness task force to be formed to look at buying or leasing one of more hotels for Oppenheimer Park residents.
The second motion is being put forward by Green councillor Michael Wiebe and NPA councillor Lisa Dominato and is titled A Collaborative and New Approach to Oppenheimer Park and Other Public Spaces.
It starts by stating “Vancouver is experiencing unprecedented housing and mental health and addiction issues,” and that “there are a significant number of persons living on the city’s streets, or out of their cars, due to the shortage of appropriately affordable housing who simply require access to shower and washroom facilities to support them on their path to permanent housing or employment.”
At last week’s park board meeting, commissioners heard that the number of people sleeping on the streets in Vancouver had risen almost 300 per cent since 2011 — to 614 in 2019.
In the motion, Wiebe and Dominato ask that Mayor Kennedy Stewart — who in early September unsuccessfully asked that parks board hand over the Oppenheimer Park file to the city — send a letter to parks board asking that the “current impasse” at the park be “resolved swiftly” for all concerned. They also want council to develop a decampment plan with the goal of “restoring the park for broad public use.”
The pair are also calling for council to direct staff to apply for provincial government funding “for the establishment of a low-barrier shelter in the city that can suitably address the specific needs of those currently encamped in Oppenheimer Park.”
The majority of councillors and mayor need to vote in favour of a motion to be passed, and often the motion is amended during the council meeting.
Vancouver’s council is comprised of an independent mayor, five from the Non-Partisan Association, three from the Green party and one from COPE.
The Vancouver park board has the power to apply for an injunction to end the tent city, but are not prepared to do that at this point. In 2014 the park board did use an injunction to end another homeless camp in Oppenheimer Park.