April 25, 2019 10:48 pm
Updated: April 26, 2019 1:06 am

Homeless campers cleared from Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park for field maintenance work

Vancouver police and park board staff work to dismantle tents in the infield of Oppenheimer Park, where homeless campers have been living since last year. The infield has been cleared for field maintenance work, which could take at least six weeks.

Sergio Magro/Global News

Dozens of campers say they have nowhere to go after getting told to leave Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park this week to allow for maintenance work.

Vancouver police, fire crews and park board staff began dismantling the campers’ tents Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday, the infield had been emptied and fenced off, leaving just a few tents on the outskirts of the park.

Nearly 50 people have been staying at the Downtown Eastside park since last year, with those numbers growing during the winter months.

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READ MORE: COPE calls for warming station, storage for Oppenheimer Park homeless campers

City staff said the infield needed to be cleared to allow for fertilizing, seeding and irrigation, which is expected to take at least six weeks.

Campers said Thursday they’re now worried about their safety, and feel the city is using the maintenance work as an excuse to force them out.

“Anywhere else I go I feel like I’m basically squatting,” said Rob, who did not give his last name. “This is the safest place in the city to be in terms of setting up outside. It’s the only place where I don’t get robbed.

“We all kind of watch out for each other, you know?”

Temporary housing has been found for 16 of the campers who were forced to leave the infield, the city said Thursday.

The park board said the campers are free to move to the sides of the park where crews aren’t working, and said the maintenance work is meant to free up the space for the community.

“We have lots of activities and events in that park throughout the summer starting in June, so we wanted to get some grass back for the community,” director of parks Howard Normann said.

He added campers have been cooperative about the displacement, and that staff hadn’t experienced any issues.

READ MORE: Advocates call for city to step in as homeless camp freezes in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park

Vancouver police said Thursday they arrested a man who doesn’t live at the park for breaching the peace, along with a female camper for a weapons offence.

The clearing comes nearly a month after Vancouver city council approved a motion directing staff to provide supports for the campers in Oppenheimer Park, including washrooms and a temporary warming station.

No timeline has been given for when those supports will be in place.

The city is in the process of tallying the results of its latest annual homeless count, which was conducted last month.

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

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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