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'We're not seeing any solutions': Request for warming tent in Oppenheimer Park denied as temperatures plummet

Last Updated Jan 14, 2020 at 11:30 am PDT

FILE: Snow falls outside Vancouver City Hall (Lasia Kretzel, NEWS 1130 Photo)

The city has opened up warming centres and added about 150 mats for people to sleep on at local shelters

Advocates say the options on offer aren't good enough, adding other cities have sanctioned warming tents

A letter from the city says setting up a warming tent would create safety hazards and urges campers to go indoors

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As temperatures continue to drop, a request made more than a month ago to set up a warming tent at Oppenheimer Park was officially turned down on Monday.

Fiona York with the Carnegie Community Action Project says options are limited for dozens of people who have been living there in tents for several months.

“This has been a concern since back in September and I think it’s very realistic and very practical to be concerned this week. It’s very, very urgent. We are seeing extremes in weather that are very rare in Vancouver,” she says. “There’s snow. It’s going to be really, really cold, and really windy so that will trigger more potential harms and hazards for people. But it’s also just the fact that this is an ongoing situation that’s going on for months and we’re not seeing any solutions in sight.”

The city has opened up warming centres and added about 150 mats for people to sleep on at local shelters.

But York says this isn’t enough.

“The warming centre that’s nearest to Oppenheimer Park is really a drop-in centre. It’s not a place where people can go and sleep. It just happens to be open all night, but you still have to leave all of your things behind in the park –all of your belongings. So you could go back and find that everything has snow damage, or has gone missing.”

She says shelter space is almost impossible to find, and the cold-weather shelters often require people to leave in the morning.

In a letter sent Monday the city says it remains “committed to ensuring that all residents have a safe, warm place to come inside during cold and wet weather.”

“We strongly believe that providing indoor shelters and warming facilities for those living outdoors is a safer and more effective response as compared to temporary outdoor options. Heating tents or other temporary structures, whether in Oppenheimer Park or elsewhere, poses significant fire and other safety hazards, thus making it very difficult to maintain an acceptable level of safety,” reads the letter from Paul Mochrie, the deputy city manager.

The letter says the decision has been made in consultation with Vancouver firefighters.

“Vancouver Fire and Rescue has reviewed the associated risks with setting up and maintaining an outdoor heated warming area within Oppenheimer Park. The significant life safety hazards and regulatory requirements that would be associated with such an area, whether electrical connections or fuel sources are used for warming devices, reinforce the City’s focus on providing indoor warming options for people,” the letter reads. “People continue to use dangerous sources of heat. These activities increase the likelihood of injury or death for people in the park and the surrounding area.”

The letter says outreach teams have connected with many of the people who are camping in the park, and encourages York and her colleagues to try and convince the remaining residents to access services. It notes that 11 people from the park have been using the nearest warming centre on a regular basis.

York says sanctioned warming tents have been set up at encampments in other cities, like Kelowna, adding the city of Vancouver sets up warming tents at events like the VanDusen Festival of Lights and the Polar Bear Swim.