Yaletown residents opposed to a permanent overdose-prevention site in their neighbourhood say a council vote in favour of it this week is hugely disappointing.
But they plan to work on new initiatives to ensure there is a constructive dialogue around the issue, as well as work with the city and health authority to address their concerns. They say they may also develop a neighbourhood security plan.
Residents had raised an alarm about the site, saying that the neighbourhood is already experiencing dramatic change after hundreds of homeless people were moved to hotels in the area in the past few months and that crime, disorder and confrontations on the streets and alleys have spiked.
“There’s an opportunity here. If we have transparent, verifiable evidence, it goes a long way to [keeping the temperature down]. I’m really in support of the motion to have a town hall on this,” said Michael Geldert, a spokesman for Safer Vancouver, a group that has raised questions about safety in the neighbourhood.
"There is talk that concerned residents will take measures to enhance safety in the park, a neighbourhood watch or something.”
The reaction follows two intense days of public speakers and debate over whether to give a lease for up to three years to an overdose-prevention site in a city-controlled space 30 metres from popular Emery Barnes Park in Yaletown.
One former Non-Partisan Association councillor, independent Rebecca Bligh, voted with the mayor, the Green Party and two councillors from left-learning parties to approve the lease.
“What I see is that people are using drugs in public because they have nowhere else to go,” Ms. Bligh said. During council’s discussions on the site, Ms. Bligh posted on Twitter: “Waiting for people to die to collect data is not my objective here. They are using in public alleys, parks, sidewalks, door stoops, entry to buildings w/ a sliver of hope someone will notice if they almost die and seek help. We can do better in those scenarios with an [overdose-prevention site].”
Ultimately, council’s four NPA councillors voted against the new site, in spite of changes being put in at their request to add new conditions about maintaining order and cleanliness around the facility.
“I think there should have been consultation with the public,” said Councillor Melissa De Genova, who suggested the current mobile van should continue to serve people while the health authority looked for another site.
She also proposed a special council meeting to talk about the issues that surrounded this site, which pitted residents saying they felt as though their neighbourhood was under siege against supporters of the overdose-prevention site, who said it was desperately needed to prevent the overdose deaths that are killing more people in B.C. and Vancouver than COVID-19.
Ms. De Genova and many residents were upset that a last-minute change to the lease terms, which eliminated a city grant, meant that only a simple majority was needed to approve it, rather than the previously required two-thirds.
There will be a town hall-type meeting, said Mayor Kennedy Stewart, but he predicted that the debate will cool down after Saturday’s provincial election is over.
Mr. Stewart, who rents in the Yaletown area, said he didn’t deny there had been changes in his neighbourhood when the province bought or leased a number of hotels nearby and filled them with people needing housing during the pandemic.
“That landed very roughly. I’m not going to say there hasn’t been a change.”
As well, he said, the pandemic has pushed a lot of people onto the streets because they can’t go to libraries, community centres or coffee shops during the day, as they used to. But, he said, things have improved and the site is urgently needed.
“When the health officer says you need it, you do it.”
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