The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) recently shared an alarming assessment of the situation in the Downtown Eastside’s Oppenheimer Park. Now a community group has responded with a statement arguing the force is being a little dramatic, maintaining that the crowd in the park isn’t the real problem.
“We understand that safety can be used as an excuse to displace already vulnerable people,” said Fiona York, a coordinator with the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), quoted in a media release. “How many 311 calls have been made in the same space of time, complaining about the police and city workers’ treatment of people staying at the park? If we really want to talk about safety, we need to provide secure, permanent housing.”
For many years now, some of Vancouver’s homeless residents have used Oppenheimer Park as a campground. In recent months, the number of campers in the park increased. Following a nonfatal shooting there that occurred on July 10, the VPD issued a statement warning that the area is dangerous.
“There has been a sharp increase in the level of violence in and around the encampment at Oppenheimer Park in recent months,” VPD spokesperson sergeant Jason Robillard said quoted in a release. “Police are responding to several 911 calls in the park every day and we are very concerned about the safety of the people staying there, our officers, firefighters, and City of Vancouver staff.”
CCAP’s response emphasizes that members of the Downtown Eastside nonprofit have maintained a presence in Oppenheimer Park for some time. It argues that the problem in the area is not the homeless campers, but the conditions that led them to the park.
“The Carnegie Community Action Project has been visiting the park almost daily and working closely with the population there, who often experience verbal and physical aggression and intimidation by city workers and VPD,” it reads. “Residents of Oppenheimer Park’s tent city experience the greatest health and safety threats due to being unhoused, and external factors such as harassment by city workers and VPD, poverty and ill health. The longest running tent city in Vancouver has doubled in size over the past month.”
Acknowledging that the number of campers in Oppenheimer Park has increased sharply this summer, CCAP’s release adds that homelessness is at an all-time high in Vancouver and that the city’s park board has conceded that many people sleeping in tents on public land have nowhere else to go.
“It is the best we have at the moment,” director of parks Howard Norman said in a recent interview, CCAP’s release notes. “We’re allowing it to happen at this time because of the how many people are there."