B.C. government sets the stage for shutting down homeless camp in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park

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      Less than an hour before housing activists were scheduled to hold a news conference in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the B.C. government has announced "safe shelter, supports for people living in major encampments".

      In a news release, the province stated that it has "worked to secure and operate 686 hotel and community centre accommodations in Vancouver and 324 hotel spaces in Victoria" since March in partnership with B.C. Housing and local municipalities.

      “Providing safe, temporary accommodations and wraparound services for people facing homelessness has been an urgent priority for this government for a long time,” Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson said. “Now, more than ever, with the concurrent emergencies of the pandemic and the ongoing opioid crisis, it is time to implement long-term housing solutions that take care of and protect our most vulnerable people.”

      There's a provincial deadline of May 9 to transition people out of encampments, including the one at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver.

      This came as a result of an order by Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth under the Emergency Program Act as part of B.C.'s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart applauded the B.C. government announcement, claiming that it will also help deal with the opioid crisis.

      "These actions will help reduce overdoses and accommodate physical distancing during our two health emergencies," Stewart declared in a statement. "All who live in our great city deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. No one wants to live on the streets. No one wants to die of a drug overdose. But this is what is happening to too many of our neighbours."

      Advocates for the homeless campers say that there are 8,700 homeless and underhoused people in Vancouver.

      “There aren’t enough rooms to house everyone. They should house as many homeless as they can regardless of whether they are in Oppenheimer Park,”  Wendy Nahanee of Culture Saves Lives said in the advocates' announcement about the upcoming news conference. “This Public Health Order bypasses the legal system process that allows for an articulation of safety provisions, peer involvement, and intake process. Where is the cultural safety and where is the vulnerability assessment."

      Long-time housing activist Chrissy Brett said that any order to remove the campers overlooks homeless people who don't live in the park and may be in a more vulnerable situation.

      The Vancouver park board, on the other hand, suports the province's plan.

      "This provision of appropriate accommodation will do much to keep these vulnerable residents safe, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic," the park board stated. "Working with the local community, the Park Board will take immediate steps to restore and improve Oppenheimer Park, to ensure it can be safety returned for public use."