Vancouver’s park board convened an emergency meeting last night (September 26) to discuss the situation in the Downtown Eastside’s Oppenheimer Park.
Despite the debate’s urgent tone, however, the evening concluded with a four-to-two vote to maintain the status quo.
City hall has pressured the board to file an injunction that would allow authorities to clear the park of dozens of homeless people who have camped there for many months now.
Instead, the board’s three Green commissioners—Stuart Mackinnon, Dave Demers, and Camil Dumont—plus COPE’s John Irwin voted to help homeless campers who want to leave Oppenheimer Park find more-stable housing on a voluntary basis.
“The Board of Parks and Recreation commits to the goal of voluntary decampment at Oppenheimer Park to be managed in conjunction with the implementation of the aforementioned temporary and more permanent strategies noted above,” the motion reads in part.
The NPA’s Tricia Barker and John Couper were the two commissioners who opposed the motion. COPE’s Gwen Giesbrecht was absent.
"I don't believe it's appropriate or suitable for people to be sleeping in parks, especially as we approach winter," Couper said, according to CBC News.
The meeting at the board’s headquarters in Stanley Park attracted intense interest. Those in attendance included city councillors, members of Vancouver’s police and fire departments, and many residents of the Downtown Eastside.
Last month, city authorities moved more than 120 campers from Oppenheimer Park into stable housing and homeless shelters. Those relocations occurred on a voluntary basis.
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.”
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Police Department has repeatedly warned of increasing crime and violence associated with the “deteriorating” situation in the park.
On September 6, Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart sent a letter to Mackinnon, the park board’s chair, requesting that the board “temporarily handover jurisdiction over Oppenheimer Park to the City”.
“If the park board and city council follow through on my suggestion to transfer control of Oppenheimer Park, it will enhance my ability to work with agencies, community partners and senior levels of government to take the necessary steps to move everyone in Oppenheimer Park who wants housing into housing and return the park to normal operations,” Stewart wrote.
The park board declined and since then has continued to resist calls to seek an injunction to force campers from the park.
“We do not believe that seeking an injunction from the courts with the goal of clearing people from Oppenheimer Park will bring us anywhere nearer to a true solution,” Mackinnon said earlier this month.
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.