Three days after a woman was shot in a car that was parked beside Oppenheimer Park, the Vancouver park board has issued a statement emphasizing it continues to work on a “resolution to the current situation”.
“Commissioners continue to be concerned about the safety of those in Oppenheimer Park, the surrounding neighbourhood, and wider community,” parks board chair Stuart Mackinnon said quoted in a media release.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has similarly said it is "concerned by a significant increase in weapons, violence, and calls for service to Oppenheimer and the surrounding area, as gangs compete for territory around the park".
The force has identified the victim of the shooting as a 53-year-old woman from Powell River who was in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside visiting one of more than 100 people who are living in tents in Oppenheimer Park. She remains in hospital but is considered stable.
It’s believed that the shooting was targeted. The VPD has warned that a turf war is underway among rival gangs in the area, and that the camp in Oppenheimer Park is a piece of territory central to the violent dispute.
Three people were arrested earlier this month for offences related to a number of shootings.
A group that’s ranged in size from dozens of people to more than 200 has camped in Oppenheimer Park for more than a year now. The park is the jurisdiction of Vancouver’s park board. Mayor Kennedy Stewart previously requested that the board temporarily hand control of Oppenheimer Park over to city hall. The park board refused.
On September 26, the park board voted to help homeless campers who want to leave Oppenheimer Park find more-stable housing on a voluntary basis.
“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 that month.
According to an August media release, more than 100 people or roughly two-thirds of people who were previously camping in Oppenheimer Park have accepted government assistance and transitioned into “safe and stable accommodation”.
On October 23, Vancouver city council voted to instruct staff to come up with a "collaborative decampment" plan that will "restore the park for broad public use".
Last June, the city revealed that in 2019, the number of homeless people in Vancouver 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.
The VPD has repeatedly described the camp in Oppenheimer Park as a cause of the increase in violent crime it says it has recorded in the area. An area nonprofit has challenged that assertion, instead arguing that problems related to the park are part of larger societal issues.
“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.”