Vancouver’s park board says it will not agree to clearing out a homeless camp in a Downtown Eastside park until the mayor proves there is a plan to house everyone who is currently living there.
“We want this park to come back to a park, but the majority of the board feels moving people onto the streets is not a safe or adequate alternative,” said Stuart Mackinnon, who heads a board dominated by the Green Party, which he’s a member of, and the Coalition of Progressive Electors.
Mr. Mackinnon was speaking for the first time since police issued a warning last Thursday that the situation at Oppenheimer Park is creating an unprecedented level of violence because of gangs converging on the area to sell drugs. He said Mayor Kennedy Stewart has claimed he has a plan to get housing for the people living in the park, but no one knows what that plan is.
And that’s why the board is refusing to hand over jurisdiction of the park to the city, as Mr. Stewart has asked, or to ask for an injunction, he said.
The mayor has said he is not going to spend time developing a plan when the park board is insisting it has sole control over parks.
Mr. Mackinnon said that if people in the area are afraid of how dangerous the situation is – including police who said officers take special precautions before going there – his message to them is: “Get on to city council, get on to the mayor, to find housing for these people.”
Mr. Mackinnon did not give a definitive answer as to whether his board would support getting an injunction if the current group of homeless people in the park were housed, given that new groups move in to the park any time an existing group gets shelter.
On Tuesday afternoon, two park-board commissioners belonging to the Non-Partisan Association called for a special meeting to discuss the “deteriorating conditions” at the park. The pair want Mr. Mackinnon to explain his plan to respond to the situation.
The standoff has prompted an unprecedented move by city councillors from two parties to try to work around the mayor and park-board chair.
The Non-Partisan Association-Green Party group plans to make a proposal to council next week that will urge the park board to ask for an injunction and adopt a city “de-encampment” plan, but with new services provided so homeless people living in the park aren’t thrown back into the streets with nothing.
Besides a strategy for providing permanent housing, the group is suggesting storage lockers so those camping can clear out the park during the day, a place to dry tents, a systematic way to prioritize people for housing and other support measures.
“There’s a recognition by a number of councillors that they’re at an impasse between the mayor and the park-board chair … but we have to deal with residents’ concerns,” NPA Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung said.
She and Green Party Councillor Michael Wiebe emphasized the group is looking to find a balance to making the park usable again for all residents and reducing crime while tackling the needs of the area’s homeless people.
Mr. Wiebe, a former park-board commissioner who has sat with Mr. Mackinnon on the board last term and is calling him these days regularly, said that “right now, what’s happening in the Downtown Eastside is unacceptable.”
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