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COPE calls for warming station, storage for Oppenheimer Park homeless campers

Homeless campers in Oppenheimer Park in February.
Homeless campers in Oppenheimer Park in February. Courtesy: CCAP

A pair of Vancouver politicians are calling on the city to provide a warming station and storage services for the dozens of homeless campers in Oppenheimer Park.

COPE Commissioner John Irwin will bring a motion to the park poard on Monday, and party colleague Coun. Jean Swanson will bring a companion motion to city council on Tuesday, calling for the resources.

“There’s anywhere from 40 people to 72 people … or the numbers are sometimes even a bit higher. And basically, they’ve been living rough through this pretty cold period we’ve been having in February and March,” Irwin said.

READ MORE: Vancouver Police looking for family of man who died at Oppenheimer Park

The motion states that there are currently reports of pneumonia among some of the campers in the park, that there are insufficient or inadequate shelters in the area and that campers’ belongings are at risk if left alone.

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It calls for park board and city staff to work together to acquire a warming station for the park and to staff it, as well as to develop a program to safely store homeless campers’ belongings.

“We have to be compassionate towards people,” Irwin said. “Think about our own circumstances if we were asked to go sleep in a warming shelter and leave our few belongings behind to find they’d been taken by somebody else.

“The solution is to actually provide housing for people at levels that meet demand as much as possible.”

The City of Vancouver said outreach and parks staff visit the 35 to 40 tents in Oppenheimer Park camp daily to offer support and try and help move people indoors.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Five people arrested Thursday at Oppenheimer Park released without charges

It adds that the city’s 900 permanent shelter beds are supplemented by an additional 300 temporary shelter beds which have been funded until 2020, as well as warming centres and community centres available to the homeless.

The city says it continues to work with the province to deliver long-term social housing solutions.

Vancouver’s 2018 homeless count found 2,181 homeless people living in the city, 659 of them living on the street.

The city and partners are gearing up to conduct the 2019 count on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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