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

(Photo: Amy Reid)
VIDEO: 2020 Community Leader Awards recognize Surrey’s unsung heroes

They don’t often receive recognition and don’t necessarily have a high profile in the community

Lisa Werring, Surrey Christmas Bureau boss, inside the charity’s new home. (Submitted photo)
‘Toys, toys, toys, we need toys’: Surrey Christmas Bureau calls for donations

‘It’s been a challenging season to say the least. Every day is a new adventure,’ says bureau boss Lisa Werring

Sukhi Sandhu, organizer of Wake Up Surrey. (File photo)
Wake Up Surrey welcomes Lipinski as city’s new police chief

But Surrey Police Service will not solve Surrey’s gang violence on its own, Sukhi Sandhu says

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead police to illegal lab in North Delta

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

Extras in Promises include many who currently serve in uniform in law enforcement, the military and the Canadian Border Services Agency. Contributed photo
Movie traces Punjabi soldiers’ role in battle during Second World War

Surrey director and White Rock councillor participate in film project

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

More than 70 anglers participated in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery on Sept. 9, 2020 on the Fraser River near Chilliwack. DFO officers ticketed six people and seized four rods. A court date is set for Dec. 1, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Anglers ticketed in Fraser River demonstration fishery heading to court

Sportfishing groups started a GoFundMe with almost $20K so far for legal defence of six anglers

Most Read