August 12, 2019 1:31 pm

Neighbours to Oppenheimer Park homeless camp call on city to speed up response

WATCH: Neighbours of Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park encampment say the growing tent city has not only taken over their only major park but also left them feeling unsafe in their own neighbourhood. Tanya Beja reports.

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Residents living near Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park are getting fed up with a tent city they say is growing out of control.

Gladys Lee says she used to volunteer at the park and meet with friends from the neighbourhood there daily.

But now, with more than 100 people living in tents in the park, she no longer feels safe — and is losing her sense of community.

READ MORE: Vancouver mayor ‘hopeful’ federal help coming for Oppenheimer Park in ‘next few weeks’

“I feel lost,” she said. “I feel like I have nowhere to go now. It really hurts my heart.”

Other nearby residents who live in social housing say they’ve lost their only accessible green space, which is already in short supply in the area.

“I want my park back,” resident Phil Wigle said. “It’s unsafe to go down there. When I do go down there, all I’m offered is drugs and booze and bicycles.”

WATCH: (July 22) Vancouver mayor says he won’t shut down Oppenheimer Park encampment


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Safety concerns have been growing throughout the summer at the park, peaking in July when a man was shot across the street on Powell Street. That same day, a Vancouver police officer was assaulted in the area.

The concerns have led to an uptick in police and fire safety officer patrols, but also a pullback in city resources.

But people who live at the park say the city needs to step back up and provide enough housing for the campers. Camper Jason Hebert argues that’s the only way the tent city will dissolve.

READ MORE: ‘It’s a tough place to live’: Vancouver mayor responds to Oppenheimer Park safety concerns

“We’re after a small, little, tiny one-bedroom apartment, so we can have a normal life like all you other people,” camper Jason Hebert said.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said last month he’s “hopeful” federal government funding will come through to help pay for additional housing, announcing he’s brought up the issue with Housing Minister Yves Duclos.

Stewart said the city is working with the provincial government and BC Housing to get those projects up and running.

WATCH: (July 16) Calls to resist ‘quick fix’ for Oppenheimer Park tent city

Coun. Pete Fry said Stewart and the rest of council are committed to following through on their promise for more housing, but noted it will take some time.

“The mayor is not ignoring this situation, I just think we’re all at a loss of immediate solutions,” he said. “Say we were to try and remove people from the park. Where would we put them? That’s the question, right? Where would they go?”

The city has said it has no plans to impose an injunction at the park.

READ MORE: Advocates for Oppenheimer Park campers call police and city’s safety concerns unfounded

Until housing arrives, neighbours living near the park have a suggestion on where the campers could go, if only to force politicians’ hands.

“They could maybe move to City Hall,” Lee said. “I hear there’s lots of grass space. That would be great. Then [the mayor] would get off his rump and do something about this.”

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

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