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Vancouver councillor wants homelessness declared a humanitarian crisis

Last Updated Nov 6, 2019 at 10:46 pm PDT

FILE - A tent city remains in Oppenheimer Park past a deadline by the city to vacate. (Source: Lauren Boothby/NEWS 1130)

Two motions related to the tent city in Oppenheimer Park are coming to council on Oct. 1

Coun. Swanson is asking for campers to be moved to a hotel and for homelessness to be declared a humanitarian crisis

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — With winter approaching, one Vancouver councillor is asking the city to act immediately to buy or lease a hotel so campers in Oppenheimer Park aren’t left out in the cold.

The demand for an immediate alternative to both the park and the existing homeless shelters is included in a motion being brought by Coun. Jean Swanson, who says it’s too late to build more modular housing before winter weather sets in.

“People who are homeless have about half the life expectancy as people who are housed in B.C. So it’s incumbent upon us to get homes for them,” she says.

The debate over the fate of the tent city at the park spurred Swanson to bring a motion proposing measures to tackle what she says is an unacceptable and urgent situation in the city.

“We can’t just keep thinking that it’s okay, for people in a rich city like this where some people live in multi-million dollar mansions, for other people to have to live on the streets,” she says.

Swanson is asking the city to declare homelessness a humanitarian crisis and convene an emergency task force including representatives from all levels of government, First Nations, people who are homeless, and their advocates.

The goal of the task force would be getting short-term shelter for everyone in the city who currently does not have it, and committing to finding those people proper, long-term housing.

“2223 homeless people were counted in the last homeless count which is recognized as an undercount, and over 600 of these people were unsheltered, and all of them continue to need housing as soon as possible,” the motion reads.

In 2014, when an encampment in Oppenheimer Park was cleared by a court injunction the city leased a hotel to house the displaced campers.

Swanson’s motion will come to the Oct. 1 council meeting.

Meantime, a cross-party coalition of councillors is bring a motion urging a swift decampment of the park, as well as a number of proposals for shelter and services for people experiencing homelessness.

“Their motion is focused on getting people out of the park, mine is focused on getting people housing,” Swanson says.

At an emergency meeting on Sept. 26 the Park Board again decided not seek a court-order that would compel campers to leave, despite being urged by Vancouver police, firefighters and city staff to do so.

Vancouver is the only city in British Columbia with an elected park board, so any move to take over Oppenheimer Park would have to be approved by both the board itself and by city council.