Should the City of Vancouver set up a sanctioned area for homeless campers, complete with services such as showers or cooking facilities?
It’s an idea being pitched by the president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Association (DTVBIA), who said the city needs to take a more proactive approach to the homeless tenters who are increasingly appearing around the city.
Vancouver’s 2019 homeless count found 2,223 homeless people in the city, more than 600 of them living unsheltered. Homeless people living rough have been increasingly visible in encampments such as the one in East Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park.
That camp has already displaced at least three community events this summer — though organizers say they don’t blame the residents.
Charles Gauthier says the “enforcement approach” to homeless camping isn’t working, and the city could at least improve the quality of life for campers by providing a sanctioned site.
WATCH: Oppenheimer Park campers displace more events
“It would make a lot more sense to have people within one local area they can actually be referred to and then provide those wraparound services to them, in terms of washroom facilities, shower facilities, counselling services, nurses,” Gauthier told Global News.
“It just seems to make a lot more sense than what we see now throughout our city, where we see people camping out in a variety of different parts of the city and it looks like they’re not getting any kind of attention and they’re at risk.”
Gautheir said he got the idea from a motion proposed back in March by COPE Councillor Jean Swanson, which called for a warming tent and improved bathroom facilities for campers in Oppenheimer Park.
“It just seems like this is a much better approach, and it would be a much better way to provide services to people in need,” he said.
But former Vancouver City Councillor George Affleck said he has some concerns with Gauthier’s proposal.
Affleck agreed that the region is dealing with a “massive” homeless problem — but he argued that if the city acted alone to provide such a sanctioned place it would be quickly overwhelmed.
“The challenge is that it can’t be Vancouver who does this alone because it would again be one of those issues where suddenly we become a magnet for people who want to camp in our city,” he said.
“I think that we need a regional strategy just like we need a regional strategy related to homelessness in general.”
Affleck argued any kind of proposal to provide sanctioned homeless camping services should be addressed through Metro Vancouver, and funded by the region or even the federal government.
WATCH: (Aired: 2014) Oppenheimer Park eviction: Where are the campers now?
Coun. Swanson said her March motion resulted in porta-potties for the campers in Oppenheimer Park, but little else.
She said she still supports the idea of providing the homeless with services such as heat, access to cooking, bathrooms or garbage collection — but said it is not a solution to the homeless problem.
“It’s inexcusable that our government hasn’t built housing for these people, real proper housing,” she said.
“They deserve the same right to housing as everyone else, housing is a human right. And it’s more expensive for taxpayers to keep people on the street than to house them, there have been all kinds of studies that show that.”
Swanson said she’d like to see the province or the city step in and provide housing in a hotel or similar facility for the park’s campers.
She said she will also continue to push for the city to add another 600 units of temporary modular housing.
— With files from Grace Ke