Oppenheimer Park campers prepare to be cleared — which city still won't confirm

WATCH: (July 22) A homeless encampment at Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park continues to grow and despite police voicing safety concerns, the city's mayor says he won't shut it down. Aaron McArthur reports

Oppenheimer Park campers are preparing for the city to move them out of the park and into social housing as early as Monday, but officials are keeping details of the plan under wraps.

The tent city is now holding more than 100 campers who have been calling the Downtown Eastside park home for months, and argue they feel safest there as opposed to living on the streets.

But the city and Vancouver police have continued to raise safety concerns about the encampment, which peaked after a shooting across the street from the park in July.

WATCH: (Aug. 11) Oppenheimer Park neighbours say tent city situation worsening

On Friday, signs were installed on Powell Street to create a “no stopping” zone outside the park, which takes effect Monday and runs until the end of August.

Park residents say they’ve already been notified that city officials and police will arrive Monday morning with plans to move campers into housing.

Chrissy Brett, a spokesperson for the campers who has been living in Oppenheimer for a month, says B.C. Housing has been holding onto single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel units for months in preparation for Monday’s plan.


READ MORE:
Neighbours to Oppenheimer Park homeless camp call on city to speed up response

She argues that holding those units is unfair to those living on the streets or in temporary shelters who need housing more than the campers do.

“The city and B.C. Housing aren’t announcing new housing options that will deal with people in the park and the city’s most vulnerable,” she said. “They’re just holding these units in the hopes that people in the park will move into them while ignoring the most vulnerable. It’s not fair.”

Sources tell Global News the Vancouver Park Board plans to post notices and distribute literature Monday morning with information for campers who will move into SROs.

WATCH: (July 16) Calls to resist ‘quick fix’ for Oppenheimer Park tent city

The park board will also offer storage to people who need it as they transition out of the tent city.

Brett said some campers have been told the notices could be distributed Wednesday.

In a statement Sunday, the city would only say it is “continuing to work with our partners, including BC Housing, to take stock of housing vacancies as we move towards finding solutions for those who are experiencing homeless and have been living in the park.”

The city also promised to share a formal statement if anything occurs at the park.


READ MORE:
Vancouver mayor ‘hopeful’ federal help coming for Oppenheimer Park in ‘next few weeks’

B.C. Housing pushed back against Brett’s claims of holding units from other people in need, saying it had moved 35 people into supportive housing in Vancouver since the start of June.

“The City of Vancouver’s Carnegie outreach team, non-profit housing providers and B.C. Housing staff have been actively assessing the housing needs of people camping at Oppenheimer Park and have been offering supportive housing units for months now,” the organization said.

“B.C. Housing and the City have been taking stock of vacancies within existing supportive housing buildings and shelters nearby Oppenheimer Park, and have been expediting renovations on a number of vacant units in need of repair.”

Those repairs have since brought the total stock of available housing to 100 units, which are being offered to Oppenheimer campers.

Brett said many of the campers ended up in Oppenheimer after two SRO hotels were shut down, which has her doubting the safety and stability of the housing being offered.

WATCH: (July 13) Oppenheimer Park campers push back on police safety concerns

She also pushed back on the city’s safety concerns, which police say have put officers in danger and led to a peak of 138 calls to the park last month alone.

“Our relationship with the fire department is good,” she said. “They’ve given us fire extinguishers which allows us to stay safe.”

Brett said she and other organizers have asked Vancouver Coastal Health to fund the volunteer-run overdose prevention site at the park, as well as for the city to provide electricity and facilities for cooking food.

When asked in July what his plan was for the tent city, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the city had no immediate plans to clear the park, and said finding housing was the top priority.


READ MORE:
‘It’s a tough place to live’: Vancouver mayor responds to Oppenheimer Park safety concerns

He also said he was “hopeful” federal funding would be provided to help build that additional housing “in the next few weeks.”

On Sunday, Employment and Social Development Canada announced it is giving Greater Vancouver over $85 million over five years as part of its new federal homelessness strategy. It’s not clear how much, if any, of that money will go towards housing in Vancouver itself.

Neighbours to the park have called on the city to build more housing in order to clear the area and bring back the community’s only significant piece of green space.


READ MORE:
Advocates for Oppenheimer Park campers call police and city’s safety concerns unfounded

Park crews have attempted to reseed the grass and continue maintenance in the park, but were forced to pull out of the field house last month over what the city called increased safety concerns.

Vancouver’s latest homeless count found 2,223 homeless people living in the city, with 614 of those living without shelter.

Brett said clearing the park and moving just some people into SROs won’t solve Vancouver’s overall homelessness problem.

“It’s not going to go away just by closing Oppenheimer,” she said. “They’ll just move to another park.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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