A man walks through the tent city at Oppenheimer park in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, August, 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A man walks through the tent city at Oppenheimer park in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, August, 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Vancouver homeless camp brings community, safety, home, says resident

Encampment in the city’s Downtown Eastside is one of many that have sprung up in B.C.

Standing out in the rain on a path between tents in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park, Shane Redpath said he has no idea where he’ll go if he’s forced out of the homeless camp.

Redpath has lived in Oppenheimer Park for nearly the full year that it’s been in place and while it’s often framed as a place of violence, he said it’s safer than any other place he’s stayed in recent years.

“This has brought me some semblance of community, safety and security, which I haven’t had elsewhere. That’s why I’m here,” he said Friday.

“Everywhere I go, I’m looked at with disgust and disdain and here I can actually somewhat move on with my life and get moving forward in a positive direction.”

The encampment in the city’s Downtown Eastside is one of many that have sprung up across the province in recent years due to a lack of housing.

Vancouver’s park board has full jurisdiction over the park and has taken a cautious approach in how it deals with the camp, resisting calls for swifter action.

In September, board commissioners voted against seeking an injunction, despite hearing from representatives from city hall, police and fire departments who spoke in favour of forcing the campers out.

It also resisted mounting pressure to cede jurisdiction to the city, including from Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who argued the city is better able to negotiate with senior levels of government on behalf of the campers, who may need a “nudge” to leave.

This week, the board finally voted to approve a request for an injunction, citing winter temperatures and the deteriorating state of the camp. But several conditions must first be met and there is no set timeline.

The board will commission an independent third-party assessment of the situation based on consultations with residents. It will give recommendations to enhance safety, provide support and seek appropriate shelter as part a “decampment” plan.

At the same time, staff will be directed to revise an existing bylaw that prohibits people from sheltering in parks after hours, a type of bylaw the board said courts have struck down in other municipalities.

“While we know this will take time, I am optimistic that we have developed a plan to improve conditions for people experiencing homelessness in Oppenheimer Park and to move toward a safe resolution,” park board chairman Stuart Mackinnon said in a statement.

The plan comes as Vancouver police continue to express concerns about safety in the park.

On Thursday, police said they deployed resources, after they found a man suffering from a gunshot wound. Spokeswoman Const. Tania Visintin said the man was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries but couldn’t say if he was a resident in the encampment.

“I can’t imagine what kind of terrifying incident this is for all those residents in the park,” she said, adding that police plan to maintain a strong presence there.

The shooting is the second in the area since September, when the police department issued a statement expressing concern about the “deteriorating level of public safety” in the park and surrounding area.

Emergency calls for police to the park had almost doubled from June to August, compared with the same period last year, it said.

“Since the beginning of the year there has been a significant spike in crime and street disorder stemming out of Oppenheimer Park, and sprawling into the Downtown Eastside,” Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow, said in the statement.

ALSO READ: Woman accidentally shot by her son in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park, police say

On Friday, Visintin declined to say whether the department is satisfied with the urgency of the park board’s plan.

“We do support the parks board as well as the City of Vancouver on their plan to get good housing for the people in Oppenheimer Park. Our main concern is the safety of everyone in the park and the surrounding neighbourhood,” she said.

Advocates held a one-year birthday party for the park Friday, which included food, music and free legal advice.

Anna Cooper, staff lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, warned that evicting residents may only cause further harm.

“What I urge everybody to understand is that we need to stop waiting for incidents to happen at tent cities to use those as an excuse to displace people,” she said.

Vancouver Coun. Jean Swanson, who is also an anti-poverty advocate, said it doesn’t make sense to evict campers from the park before housing is available.

Council has heard there’s a zero per cent vacancy rate for the lowest-income residents of the city, she said. And only 11 residents of Oppenheimer Park have been relocated since August, she said.

At the same time, housing stock for the city’s lowest-income residents could shrink soon. Four of the city’s single-room occupancy (SRO) buildings, which are typically the last place people can afford to live before they become homeless, are advertised for sale as “microlofts” and “investment opportunities,” she said.

And while the province built 600 modular homes last year, this year’s budget included funding for only 200 more across the province, she said.

“The issue is we need housing those people can afford,” she said.

“It’s not safe to be homeless, you don’t have a door to lock. But at the park, they have put up their own overdose prevention site, they have a 911 call box and they have each other to help, which they don’t have if they’re dispersed onto the streets and alleys.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The driver of a pickup truck failed to stop after knocking down a wooden fence on March 3, 2021. (screen grab)
VIDEO: Footage catches pick-up driver smash fence on Abbotsford/Langley border

Driver came forward after video circulated on social media

Do you have an opinion you’d like to share? Write or email your letter. You can also submit letters and story tips through our website. (Pixabay)
LETTER: Langley resident laments loss of housing dreams for youth

Canadians have to rethink about equality in light of economic disparities

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

This is the latest letter from a local writer concerned about the cutting of trees on land being developed. (Langley Advance Times files)
LETTER: Langley politicians happy allow developers to cut down trees, letter writer argues

Do you have an opinion you’d like to share? There’s various ways to submit letters to the editor

A local reader expresses his opposition to the government carbon tax. (Crystal Schick/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Langley man argues carbon tax talk was all hot air

Emissions have risen and it’s costing more for Canadians, a local letter writer contends

Seveya Jepsen is inviting people to stop by her Pet Food Drive on Saturday, March 6, 2021. (Jepsen family/Special to the Langley Advance Time)
Langley girl’s 10th birthday goes to the dogs, and cats, and rabbits

Seveya Jepsen is concerned that animals have enough food so she’s hosting a pet food drive.

Lower Mainland teens with Ocean Wise’s YouthToSea program have launched an initiative called Clean Coastal, Eat Local, through which they’re offering restaurant gift cards to individuals or households that organize a coastal cleanup in the month of March. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise)
Teens challenge Lower Mainlanders to clean up their act

YouthToSea offers restaurant gift cards in exchange for a cleaner coastline

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Most Read