A visit to City Hall from activists and homeless people camping in Oppenheimer Park has prompted the formation of a new committee to advocate for more senior-government support for housing.
The demonstrators, holding banners with messages like “homes now”, showed up at the last regular council meeting before the summer break today (July 22).
City staff met with them to discuss their concerns, which include homelessness and conditions in Downtown Eastside single-room-occupancy hotels.
Following the meeting, the activists said the city has agreed to keep the washrooms in Oppenheimer Park open 24 hours a day but they are still being asked to take down their tents.
“Basically, they’re saying that if we have our pillows and our blankets, we can sleep on the ground,” Cee Jai Julian told reporters.
Vision Vancouver councillor Kerry Jang said the demonstrators have legitimate concerns about the state of housing in the city.
“Many of them felt disempowered…they’re living in squalor, in many cases, and they wanted to make sure that we understood that, and I heard that very loud and clear,” he stated.
Jang said he and councillor Andrea Reimer will sit as city-council liaisons on the committee to “address their immediate housing concerns as quickly as we can, as well as long-term solutions”.
City manager Penny Ballem said that although the protestors have the right to be in the park, “it’s the structures that are the issue under our bylaws”.
She noted that she has asked staff to look into addressing concerns like mice and bedbugs in SROs.
“Bedbugs is certainly an issue that, of all the issues that impact people living in SROs, I think that’s probably the most significant, and it’s one that is obviously a health issue,” Ballem told reporters.
A spokesperson for the campers, Brody Williams, told the Straight on July 21 that the protestors have no intention of removing their tents from Oppenheimer Park.