City says most Oppenheimer Park campers now in housing but only shelter beds available for the rest

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      The city’s latest update on the situation in Oppenheimer Park suggests authorities will continue with a restrained approach.

      “Approximately 127 people experiencing homelessness living in Oppenheimer Park have accepted housing offers following a Park Board General Manager’s order last week which requested that tents and other structures be removed by August 21,” reads an August 26 update.

      The city continues to work with VPD [Vancouver Police Department] to ensure the safety of all people in the park, as well as residents in the surrounding neighbourhood,” it continues. “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.

      “At this time, the Park Board has not issued direction to staff to seek an injunction to enforce the GM order.”

      The notice adds that the stable-housing units that BC Housing and nonprofit partners made available for people camping in Oppenheimer Park have now been spoken for and are occupied. Therefore, people who are still sleeping in the park will be connected with shelters.

      Today’s release does not say how many people remain in Oppenheimer Park but an August 23 update on the situation said that on that date the number was 30.

      An August 24 media release issued by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) maintains that the city and province have not made enough housing units available for the large number of people who have spent the last year sleeping in the park.

      “A disproportionately high number of the vulnerable park residents facing the loss of a safe and stable living situation are Indigenous,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said quoted there. “Any move to forcefully evict them is 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.”

      As the Straight reported on August 23, B.C. Indigenous leaders have issued a joint statement with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing that condemns the City of Vancouver and the parks board for this week’s evictions of homeless campers who have spent the last year sleeping in Oppenheimer Park.

      Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, is quoted in the joint statement describing the city’s actions as “unacceptable and an egregious violation of the right to housing”.

      “If the City is taking their obligations under international human rights law seriously, I expect that the Oppenheimer Park residents will not be evicted without a place to go,” she said.

      As the Straight reported earlier today (August 23), an August 21 deadline for homeless campers to vacate Oppenheimer Park has come and gone but many tents remain on the field in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

      Last June, 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.

      In 2018, a shocking 40 percent of Vancouver’s homeless population identifies as Indigenous, according to a city staff report. That compares to just 2.2 percent of the general population.

      Of Indigenous people who were homeless in Vancouver, 46 percent, or 288 people, were sleeping on the street.