"More than 119" people experiencing homelessness in Oppenheimer Park accept city's offer of housing

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      A couple of hours after being slammed by Indigenous leaders and a UN special rapporteur, the city and park board have issued a joint statement about the situation in Oppenheimer Park.

      According to the two levels of local government, "more than" 119 people experiencing homelessness in the Downtown Eastside park have accepted offers for housing.

      Of those, 38 percent self-identify as Indigenous and 34 percent are women.

      This came after park board general manager Malcolm Bromley ordered that the tents be taken down by August 21.

      Elected park commissioners have not directed staff to seek an injunction in B.C. Supreme Court to enforce Bromley's demand that campers to leave.

      "The City’s Carnegie Outreach team remains committed to supporting people as they move out of the park into housing and shelter options, and will continue this work," the statement declares. "The City continues to work with VPD to ensure the safety of all people in the park, as well as residents in the surrounding neighbourhood. VPD officers will maintain a presence at the park to keep the peace, and respond to incidents as needed, but will not remove people living in the park without further legal authorization and notice."

      Earlier today, the UN's special rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, said that the city's attempt to clear the park is an "unacceptable and an egregious violation of the right to housing".

      About 40 percent of Vancouver's homeless population was Indigenous, according to a 2018 survey. In 2019, the number of homeless people in Vancouver rose to 2,223, up from 2,181 the previous year.

      The president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, has described any move to forcefully evict Indigenous campers as "callous and insensitive to the mental health, addictions, and poverty that they are battling as a result of an ongoing colonial legacy of systemic discrimination and oppression".

      Meanwhile, there is a desire among local business owners for the park to be restored to its intended use.

      Last week, the Strathcona Business Improvement Association reported that 83 percent of businesses operating in the vicinity want the park used as a green and social space, and not a campground.

      The remaining respondents in the BIA's survey were open to the idea of a city-sanctioned tent city.

      The survey results were released a year after campers began setting up structures for the most recent tent city there.

      “One thing that is clear is that businesses in and around Oppenheimer Park feel strongly that action needs to occur,” the BIA's executive director, Theo Lamb, said.

      Between January and July of this year, about 42 percent of the BIA's safety team's time was spent in the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District, according to the BIA.