With or without COVID-19 threat, John Coupar wants Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park cleared of homeless camp

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      John Coupar can’t say whether he’s worried about a potential outbreak of coronavirus at the homeless camp at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park.

      As the board of parks and recreation commissioner stressed, he’s not a medical doctor, and has no idea about health matters like this.

      “I do know that I have been calling for that park to be cleared since last year, and my opinion has not changed,” Coupar told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview Monday (March 9).

      Coupar and fellow commissioner Tricia Barker have been pushing for the removal of the homeless encampment at the Downtown Eastside park.

      Coupar and Barker belong to the Non-Partisan Association, and they are a minority in the Green party-led park board.

      “My reasons have more been about public safety, with the weapons and the recent fire and the fact that we had a homicide there in January,” Coupar said.

      On January 20 this year, the park board issued a statement noting that it is in the “final stages of procuring a third party to provide support for housing outreach and peer mentorship to the people experiencing homelessness in Oppenheimer Park”.

      “In the interim, while that work progresses, the Park Board, City, and BC Housing are working toward securing additional temporary and permanent shelter space for people in the downtown eastside, including those in Oppenheimer Park,” the board announced.

      The Vancouver police have continuing concerns about violence at Oppenheimer Park.

      Police have seized weapons from the park, like swords and hatchets.

      On December 10, 2019, the park board issued a statement noting that it approved additional measures to support a “decampment plan” for Oppenheimer Park.

      These measures include engaging a “third party to conduct an independent assessment of the current situation in Oppenheimer Park to provide recommendations to enhance safety, provide support, and seek appropriate shelter for people in the park as part of the "decampment plan”.

      The board also authorized the park board’s general manager to seek a court injunction after certain conditions are met.

      Coupar remains unimpressed with the park board’s stance on Oppenheimer Park.

      “The board made that decision in December, and I would have liked to see faster action, but I'm not in the majority,” Coupar said.

      A February 4, 2020 media release from the “Oppenheimer Tent City” stated that B.C. Housing has said that there is “no new housing for homeless people living” at the park.

      “Without adequate housing, tent cities become a harm reduction zone and safety net for the vulnerable — and should be provided with the resources and services to function as such,” the release read.

      These resources include peer support, health care, heat, and sanitation.

      According to the tent city’s release, supports are essential to people living in Oppenheimer Park in the “absence of safe, affordable and dignified housing”.

      “Residents and advocates of Oppenheimer tent city welcome the Vancouver Park Board’s decision to engage a third-party agency to facilitate peer workers and other resources in order to address the immediate needs of park residents,” according to the news release.