VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Over 200 people camping in Oppenheimer Park have been ordered to leave by Wednesday night, and a nearby shelter is committing to do its part to ensure they have support and a safe place to sleep.
An eviction notice was issued Monday to the residents of the park, some of whom have been camping in the park for over a year. Local businesses have voiced concerns about losing revenue because of the tent city, and a recent spate of violence pushed police and the city to take action.
But the campers, who have been experiencing homelessness and difficulty finding a more permanent housing situation, say they have nowhere else to go.
The city has found places for fewer than half of the campers through BC Housing since Monday.
“Approximately 75 people have accepted offers to move into safe and stable accommodation,” it says in a release. “Good quality housing options remain available, with many having been under renovation over the past few weeks. All housing units are in publicly owned and non-profit run buildings, including the SRO rooms being offered.”
Union Gospel Mission is now increasing shelter space so every camper forced to leave the park has somewhere to sleep.
“There’s a refuge for you if you need it,” says spokesperson Jeremy Hunka.
Hunka says the shelter has been working to connect with people in the park by offering outreach, meals, and sleeping bags.
“They’ve been through trauma, they’ve been through broken promises. So, it’s difficult to believe that people have their best interests at heart. One of the things that we’ve been doing is to build relationships, build trust, give things that people need.”
Hunka says for some, leaving the park will be a difficult process.
“This is the place that they’ve been calling home for several months, or even a year in some cases. Their community is there. Some of them feel safe there, they are surrounded by people they know and we don’t want all of that to be lost,” he says.
As our homeless neighbours prepare to leave #OppenheimerPark, we’ll open extra shelter spaces, as necessary, to help in their time of need. We're also focusing on outreach and referral services to help them access life-changing programs and housing. #endhomelessness #endpoverty pic.twitter.com/lta4wDoV7p
— Union Gospel Mission (@ugm) August 21, 2019
Hunka hopes anyone who takes the shelter up on the offer of a bed will ultimately be on their way to a safe, stable home.
“Our great hope is that everybody, or the vast majority, gets into housing. That they have housing with support around them where they feel that they’re valued, that they have a future, and that they’re not just being shuffled around,” he says.
In 2014, about 200 tents housed people experiencing homelessness in the park. Later that year, they were all forced out by court injunction and the City of Vancouver leased a hotel to house those who were displaced.
With files from Hana Mae Nassar, Dean Recksiedler, and Espe Currie