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City should 'step up' to find shelter for people in Oppenheimer Park: park board chair

Last Updated Jul 8, 2019 at 12:36 am PDT

About 130 people have been living in the tent city at Oppenheimer Park for over a year. (Source: CityNews Vancouver)
Summary

There are currently more than 100 tents occupying Oppenheimer Park

A park board commissioner wants senior levels of government to step up and find safe shelter for the people in the park

Organizers of the Powell Street Festival announced that this year's program would not include any events in the park

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) — After a large homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park caused an annual festival to relocate, one park board commissioner wants more supports for the city’s most vulnerable.

Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon says the board has done what it can to help and it’s time for the city to “step up.” The board has installed 24-hour washrooms, ensured access to water, and made sure there are park rangers on site.

“The Park Board can’t find accommodation for these folks. We are asking the senior levels of government–the city, the province, and the federal government–to find more housing for people. There are far too many homeless people in Canada and especially here in Vancouver and as a result they’re finding places like Oppenheimer park to make a home. This is really intolerable in a society as wealthy as Canada.”

There are more than 100 tents at the site.

Mackinnon says he has heard from residents of the area who are concerned about safety and accessibility.

“I understand people’s concern. Parks are supposed to be accessible for everyone and when people are forced to camp out in parks it can be not as open as other people would like,” he says. “I am just as concerned as others about safety. Both the safety of park users and of course the safety of the people who are camping in the park.”

Earlier this week, organizers of the Powell Street Festival announced that this year’s program would not include any events in the park. The festival is a celebration of Japanese Canadian arts. Japanese Canadians made up the majority ethnic group in the area around Powell Street from the 1890s until 1942, when the Canadian government forcibly removed the entire community.

“As a community that has experienced forced displacement, we refuse to continue this pattern of dispossession of vulnerable people in this area,” said Powell Street Festival Society president Edward Takayanagi in a release. “In respect for the current residents and the occupants of the park, they have designed their festival and program to ensure the people in the park are not displaced while providing a rich cultural experience for festival goers”

The festival similarly rearranged it’s programming In 2014, when there were about 200 tents housing homeless people in the park. Later that year, campers were forced out by court injunction.