Mayor Kennedy Stewart asks for the federal government's help with Vancouver's homeless campers

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      Homeless people camping in the Downtown Eastside’s Oppenheimer Park have become a headache for Vancouver’s mayor.

      It happens every few years. The number of campers gradually builds over a few months, authorities allow problems of sanitation and safety to slowly reach a point where politicians can convincingly argue it is time for people to move along, and then police tactically clear the park in a way that avoids creating dramatic scenes for the evening news.

      This time, however, Vancouver’s first-term mayor, Kennedy Stewart, says he wants the federal government to help provide a more-permanent solution.

      "We have had lots of federal promises for housing, but now the rubber has to hit the road," Stewart told reporters yesterday (July 17). "I'm nervous as the election comes up that there's a challenge of making that happen.

      "We really need the feds to come in now," he said. "We can't [provide housing] without the money to back that up," said Stewart.

      In November 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a 10-year national housing strategy that he claimed could reduce homelessness in Canada by 50 percent.

      A satellite image captured by Google Maps reveals a smattering of campers in Oppenheimer Park is a routine occurrence.
      Google Maps

      It’s an ambitious goal.

      On June 12, the city of Vancouver revealed that in 2019, the number of homeless people had increased for the fourth year in a row.

      There were 2,223 homeless residents counted this year, compared to 2,181 in 2018, 2,138 the year before that, and 1,847 in 2017.

      According to a staff presentation, 44 percent of Vancouver’s homeless population struggles with a mental illness and 38 percent live with a physical disability. In addition, a shockingly disproportionate number are Indigenous.

      The situation in Oppenheimer Park will likely continue through the rest of the summer. The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) recently shared an alarming assessment of the situation, claiming that the area is so dangerous that the force will no longer dispatch officers there unless they can travel in groups.

      Outreach workers with the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) responded with a bit of a guffaw. They maintain the campers are not the real problem.

      “We understand that safety can be used as an excuse to displace already vulnerable people,” said CCAP coordinator Fiona York 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.”