Grace Chen has owned and operated the Ovaltine Café for the last 20 years, but as the tent city in Oppenheimer Park has exploded with campers in recent years, the neighbourhood has changed, she told CTV News Vancouver on Sunday.
“It’s really hard,” she said. “I need to pay more but the price cannot go up, people cannot afford that.”
Chen told CTV News she wants to help the campers, give them good food to eat and a safe place to be, but it’s tough, because she’s regularly kicking people out of her bathroom.
“They sleep there, they do the drug there and they take toilet paper, soap away, so my regular customers, they’re not happy with the washroom,” Chen said.
She also said she doesn’t feel safe when she arrives and leaves work in the dark, because of the violence in the neighbourhood. She’s even altered the hours of her business, closing at 6 p.m. instead of midnight.
“I need more customers,” she said.
A shooting Thursday evening sent a man to hospital in serious condition. It was the second shooting in the area since October. Vancouver police have been warning of a significant increase in weapons, violence and calls for service at the campsite, as gangs compete for territory in the park.
“It’s not a good neighbourhood,” said Don Smeal, who lives nearby. “People think it’s bad. It’s 10 times worse. I stumble over bodies every day, I think. Hard to believe I live here.”
All this has renewed calls for the Vancouver Park Board, which runs Oppenheimer Park, to take action. Last week, park board commissioners agreed to a conditional injunction, which means they will allow the city to move in, once certain conditions are met. Park board staff want a third party brought in to assess the situation. They want the entire process done with principles of reconciliation and in consultation with those living in the park.
Chen said she wants government officials to “do something to help [campers] to find a place to live with winter coming,” adding, “It’s not safe.”
Park Board commissioners have not set a timeline on when they will take the steps towards the injunction.
“Before, the park was so beautiful,” Chen told CTV News. “I miss that time.”