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'We're one call away from something very tragic': Park Board won't seek injunction to clear Oppenheimer

Last Updated Sep 27, 2019 at 11:18 am PST

A man walks through the homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver on Sept. 6, 2019. (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130 Photo)
Summary

The Vancouver Park Board held a special meeting about the tent city at Oppenheimer park

Vancouver police, firefighters, and city staff all spoke in favour of an injunction

The park board passed a motion that urges 'collaborative' decampment, and opted not to seek an injunction

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park will remain — at least for now — as the Vancouver Park Board continues to refuse to get a court-order to clear tents and campers.

After a special meeting that ran over four hours Thursday night, commissioners voted 4-2 in favour of working with the city to find housing for people and eventually decamp the park but pursuing an injunction was not part of their motion.

Representatives for the Vancouver Police Department, Vancouver Fire and Rescue, and the city, who are all in favour of an injunction, provided an update to commissioners on the current situation at the park during the meeting.

“Our concern is that we’re one call away from something very tragic happening,” said Deputy Police Chief Howard Chow. “This is an area that causes us grave concern so it does need some sort of action that’s going to clear the park.”

Chow went over previously released numbers that show an increase in calls and violence in the park and area.

“Over the last four, five weeks alone, we’ve had five swarmings where officers are getting bottles and things like that thrown at them so there is a direct issue and concern that we have with the level of violence,” he added.

But of the over 20 people from the public to address commissioners, most spoke in favour of leaving campers alone, unless housing is provided.

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“I honestly believe that part of the reason this board is split is because some of you are not taking the time to meet with people, as people,” said Anna Cooper with Pivot Society. “You had this meeting, on 48 hour notice, you made no effort to connect directly with the people who are going to be most impacted by the decisions you’re seeking to make.”

Commissioners also heard from a woman who’s been living at the camp.

“We don’t like living at the park, you know that? It is so dehumanizing. We have rats that come in and we have to constantly chase them out,” she said, breaking down in tears.

“I am a grandmother of 5, I have 6 children, I used to work as a nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital. I ended up with cancer and took time off work, tried to get back on. I had to get a doctor’s note and I was diagnosed with lupus so I could no longer work as a nurse, lost my income.”

The meeting was called by NPA board commissioners Tricia Barker and John Coupar, the only commissioners in support of seeking an injunction to clear the park.

Commissioner Camil Dumont put a motion forward that emphasized finding shelter or permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness who are camped in the park, rather than forcing them out with a court order. He says he is in favour of decamping the park but wants the process to be “collaborative” and “peaceful.”

“The Board of Parks and Recreation commits to the goal of decampment of Oppenheimer Park to be managed in conjunction with the the implementation of aforementioned temporary and more permanent strategies noted above,” the motion reads.

Commissioner John Coupar staged an unsuccessful challenge of Dumont’s motion, proposing an amendment that would include clearing the park and seeking an injunction. He was ruled out of order.

The meeting comes ahead Vancouver city council’s meeting on Tuesday, which will see a cross-party coalition motion, to find housing and clear Oppenheimer Park.

Editor’s Note: The article has been updated to correct the Vancouver city council meeting will take place on Tuesday, not Monday.