Last camper moves out of Oppenheimer Park as cleanup begins
VANCOUVER -- Police and City of Vancouver park rangers escorted the last person living in Oppenheimer Park out of the tent city Saturday afternoon, moments before crews with excavators moved in to clean up the mountains of trash left behind.
The province says more than 260 people who had been living in the park have been offered indoor accommodations, with most being put up in hotels secured for people experiencing homelessness to self-isolate during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“There’s obviously much more work to do and we’re committed to working with people in the community to make that work happen. But this is a very important start,” said Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson.
Simpson says everyone in the park was offered a place to live, but some former park residents dispute that, saying now that the park is fenced off they don’t know where they will go.
“I don’t know. Maybe dig in and go back over there,” said a man named Dale as he stood across the street with a pile of belongings. “Let them take me by force. A jail cell is better than the street.”
Senior Anna Guno lives across the street from the park and says she is happy people living there have been offered somewhere else to go because it makes her feel safer.
“We’ve had a few people in our building accosted,” she said. “And it’s all elders and babies in our building.”
The Vancouver Park Board hasn’t had a chance to assess the damage yet, so it’s still unclear how much time and money it will take to restore the park to a usable community amenity after two years as a homeless camp.
People who live and work in the community say they would like a seat at the table as the park board decides how the park will function now that the tent city is gone.
“I think there’s a lot of hard work still to come. The decampment was step one,” said Theodora Lamb, Executive Director of the Strathcona Business Improvement Association. “And it has to be done thoughtfully and in concert with the organizers and the community leaders working here on the ground.”
Many in the neighbourhood worry that with Oppenheimer Park being shut down, people will simply set up camp elsewhere.
In fact, that is already happening nearby in an empty Port of Vancouver parking lot immediately to the west of CRAB Park.
“We are aware of a number of people and tents set up on a parking lot within the port authority’s jurisdiction,” the port said in a statement. “While we respect the right to peacefully protest, we have informed this group that they are trespassing on port authority property and will need to vacate. We are in contact with the local police and are monitoring the situation.”
“There’s no flipping the switch. This is not an easy challenge and it will take time, but our commitment is to work with the community, the service providers, the people in the community who are committed to the Downtown Eastside,” said Simpson about ongoing efforts to find permanent accommodation and wraparound support services for other at-risk people in the neighbourhood.
This is the fourth encampment to be removed from Oppenheimer Park in recent decades.