VPD increasing patrols downtown after residents raise concerns about safety
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Police Department says it will be increasing patrols in the downtown core after residents, particularly in Yaletown, raised concerns about safety for families.
The concerns were first reported by CTV News Vancouver back in May, with residents saying they’ve seen issues with dangerous waste, human excrement and discarded needles in the streets and also Emery Barnes Park, problems that have increased exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
This week, a disturbing incident involving a partially clothed man jumping on top of a car was caught on camera at Granville and Davie streets. CTV News was also sent video taken by a resident of the Brava building, showing a bear banger being thrown from a top window of the Howard Johnson hotel and exploding on the ground.
Yaletown resident Kelly Tompkins says scenes like this are part of the new normal.
“It’s outrageous, but its not shocking,” Tompkins said. “This is what’s happening. This was a family neighborhood when I moved here. It was safe to walk out in the street. Now, every day there’s needles.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who had been living in Oppenheimer Park were moved into empty hotels in the downtown core, including the Howard Johnson on Granville Street.
CTV News has obtained an email from a VPD staff sergeant that was sent to a Yaletown resident this week. It reads, in part, “The VPD was not consulted on this development and we are now scrambling to keep up. Some of the resulting issues will be beyond the scope of the police to deal with and require action by other service from the province and the City of Vancouver.”
On Friday, VPD said they have heard the message from Yaletown residents “loud and clear.” Const. Tania Visintin said the department will be increasing patrols.
“We have had numerous emails (and) messages from residents in Yaletown asking for an increase of police presence in the neighborhood,” Visintin said. “We're reallocating our resources downtown to increase our presence. We're going to have police officers, more bike patrol.”
On the other hand, advocates are hailing the move to bring marginalised people into empty hotels. Max Lyman is a support worker at the Howard Johnson. He says the changing environment for those living in the hotel can be “jarring” to some.
“At first it was tough,” he said. “It was a big transition for a lot of people, going from the freedom of being in a park to a place that has rules and stuff. But having them have consistent access to services and stuff and once the dust sort of settled, so to speak, and everyone got settled in, it’s been a really positive thing for a lot of people.”
Kenneth Parker used to live in Oppenheimer park and was moved into the hotel about a month ago.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s nice to have a hot shower. It’s nice to have a room and something over my head and it‘s nice to see the government take some real responsibility for social issues.”
Residents say they have not been consulted about the changes, and still don’t know if the move is permanent.
Shane Simpson, B.C.’s Minister of Social Development Poverty Reduction says consultation has come from BC Housing.
“BC Housing has engaged both the business communities and those neighborhood associations and organisations to look at how we have an ongoing discussion about meeting the needs of those community groups and ensuring that they’re part of the discussion about how we ensure their communities stay safe and whole,” Simpson said.
Friday afternoon, BC Housing announced it would be starting online dialogue sessions in which “a community dialogue group … will address questions and concerns raised by community members.” The first session will be held July 8.
It will also be conducting daily sweeps of local areas and neighboring streets for discarded needles. In a statement, the agency said:
“As with all new supportive housing buildings, it takes some time for residents to settle into the building. It is our experience that after a few months, residents stabilize and public disturbances decrease dramatically. We know from evidence in B.C. and internationally that communities are safer and healthier when people have housing and the supports they need.”