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City of Vancouver considers clearing homeless out of Oppenheimer Park

Last Updated Jul 17, 2019 at 6:56 am PDT

Oppenheimer Park, Vancouver. (CityNews)
Summary

Councillor Jean Swanson says city is in closed-door talks about how to clear homeless people living in tents in park

In 2014, the city leased a hotel after 200 campers were forced out of Oppenheimer Park by injunction

Swanson is concerned safety will be used as a pretext to prematurely force people to leave

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Closed-door meetings are being held to figure out the best way to clear another tent city out of Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park, according to one city councillor.

Councillor Jean Swanson says she can’t disclose details of possible remedies being discussed at City Hall.

There are more than 100 tents at the site and Swanson is advocating for adequate housing to be found for all the campers.

“A lot of them don’t want to go to a crappy SRO because of bed bugs and rats and cockroaches. The conditions are bad,” she says.

She points to a precedent set five years ago. In 2014, about 200 tents housed homeless people in the park. Later that year, they were all forced out by court injunction.

“Well, last time it happened, the city leased a motel. It was a proper motel. It had bathrooms in each room. You know, it wasn’t perfect housing by any means, but it was way better than a crummy SRO or just moving people to another tenting site–of which there are none.”

In recent weeks, police have been repeatedly called to the park at Powell and Jackson.

On July 10, the Vancouver Police Department responded to reports of a non-fatal shooting near the park. In a release, the VPD expressed concern, saying there were 92 emergency calls that required police in the park in the month of June alone. That number was up from the month before, when there were 87 calls for police response. Both are “significantly up from 2018,” for those months, the VPD added.

“We want people in the park to be safe and currently, the environment there is not safe, even for our officers,” Sgt. Jason Robillard said. “On Wednesday, a police officer was assaulted as she tried to assist City crews working to keep the park clean.”

Swanson is concerned that other government officials may use safety as a pretext to clear the park of its occupants.

“The city is using the excuse, and the Park Board may be using the excuse, of the shooting to disperse the park and we want to make sure that the people in the park aren’t chased out unless they have a decent place to go,” she says.

Swanson visited the park Tuesday and says the campers didn’t express heightened fears for their safety.

“People that I asked seemed okay. I was okay walking through there too.”