The City of Vancouver says it has moved about 127 people who were sleeping in a Downtown Eastside tent city into housing units and is now trying to get several dozen campers who’ve defied the order to leave Oppenheimer Park into shelter beds.
People have been sleeping in tents in the park since last year and as many as 200 people were thought to be camping there when the municipal park board issued an eviction deadline for last Wednesday. The majority of campers have moved into supportive housing, but city staff and BC Housing are now trying to get the remaining campers to agree to sleep in nearby shelters, according to an official update sent on Monday afternoon. The city did not provide an estimate for how many campers were left.
“The city continues to have concerns for people sleeping in the park, given the history of serious health and safety incidents often associated with encampments,” the statement read.
Roughly 85 tents are still pitched on the grass there and most of these inhabitants would rather camp out there instead of take the city’s offer of a shelter bed, according to Fiona York, co-ordinator and administrator with the Carnegie Community Action Project, a community group that lobbies for affordable housing in the Downtown Eastside. She said campers dislike shelter rules forbidding them to share a space with a partner, a no-pets policy as well as storage restrictions on shopping carts and other belongings.
“There’s still quite a few people here and it’s highly unlikely people would opt for shelter beds over staying in a tent,” Ms. York said on Monday afternoon.
Last month, the Vancouver Police Department said it was concerned about patrolling the one-block-square park after someone was injured in a shooting on the perimeter and an officer was assaulted, in separate incidents.
On Monday, the city said officers will remain at the park to keep the peace, but “will not remove people living in the park without further legal authorization and notice.”
Ms. York said campers say they feel safe at the park and noted that its overdose prevention site is the only one in the neighbourhood that operates 24 hours a day.
“We also have people that come here from outside the park in the middle of the night for its safety,” she said.
Monday’s update from the city stated that the park board has not directed ts staff to seek an injunction to enforce the eviction order from the agency’s general manager.
The park became a flashpoint for a homelessness crisis in the city as it reached its highest total in recent years when about 2,200 people were deemed homeless during a one-day count this spring. About 600 of those people were living on the streets; the rest were in shelters.
Last week, the city said all the housing units offered to the campers are in publicly owned, non-profit buildings and include some recently renovated single-room occupancy (SRO) units, as well as shelter spaces available as interim housing.
With a report from The Canadian Press