Most people think of the Vancouver park board as the employer of life guards and park rangers and overseer of parks, community centres, swimming pools, and municipal golf courses.
But in recent years, the park board has been on the front lines dealing with homelessness.
People have been living rough in the woods of Stanley Park for decades. This continued long after Indigenous residents were evicted from their traditional territory at Brockton Point in 1931.
But in recent years, homeless camps have popped up in other areas of the city under the park board's jurisdiction, including Oppenheimer, CRAB, and Strathcona parks.
Today, the park board announced the appointment of a person who has expertise to address this issue. Betty Lepps is the new director of urban relationships.
According to a park board news release, Lepps will lead "on responding to the needs of people experiencing homelessness, helping to fulfill the City’s humanitarian responsibilities to those sleeping or sheltering in parks".
“I believe that this is a unique position, and in my experience I’ve never heard of this role elsewhere," park board general manager Donnie Rosa said.
Rosa described the appointment of Lepps as "long overdue".
"People sheltering in parks is not an operational issue, it’s a human condition that needs a humane approach," Rosa continued. "Betty brings that approach and her extensive knowledge of working within our collaborative construct will be of huge benefit to Vancouver and its residents.”
Lepps has a great deal of experience working with Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States. When she was at B.C. Housing, she co-led efforts to find housing for almost 300 people who were living in Strathcona Park, according to the park board news release.
Lepps said that she's thrilled to be joining the park board, which she described as "innovative, creative, and committed to serving all citizens in Vancouver”.
“I look forward to using my skills and knowledge to make Vancouver’s parks the most inclusive, diverse and equitable places for all to enjoy,” she said.