The City of Vancouver says up to 119 campers living in Oppenheimer Park have accepted offers of supportive housing since Wednesday’s deadline.
But those who remain at the Downtown Eastside tent city are warning officials against any action that would evict them from the park, while decrying a lack of housing options.
The city and the Vancouver Park Board issued a general manager’s order Monday that required all tents and structures be removed by Wednesday at 6 p.m.
City staff and outreach workers have been at the park since then, offering more than 140 single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel units to the campers. Roughly 50 people accepted those offers by the deadline.
By Thursday, the city said 93 people had accepted those offers, which staff said accounted for more than two-thirds of the campers living in the park.
Staff said Friday it is still working with 30 remaining campers to accept offers to live in the remaining units, while offering shelter space to others sleeping in the park.
WATCH (Aug. 21, 2019): Campers prepare to leave Oppenheimer park before final deadline
“The City’s Carnegie Outreach team remains committed to supporting people as they move out of the park into housing and shelter options, and will continue this work,” the city said in a statement.
But a coalition of advocates for the campers, including the Union of British Columbian Indian Chiefs and the Carnegie Community Action Project, say the number of units being offered doesn’t cover the total population of the tent city.
The group estimates 300 people are living in 225 tents inside the park — roughly double the city’s estimate — and are concerned the rest of the campers will be evicted without a place to go.
“Any move to forcefully evict (the campers) is callous and insensitive to the mental health, addictions, and poverty that they are battling as a result of an ongoing colonial legacy of systemic discrimination and oppression,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a statement from the group, adding a majority of those campers are Indigenous.
Of the campers moved into housing, the city said 38 per cent identify as Indigenous, while 34 per cent identify as women.
The park board said Friday it is not directing staff to seek an injunction to enforce the order “at this time,” but has said it is considering a legal route.
WATCH (Aug. 19, 2019): Oppenheimer Park tent city given two days to move
The board is asking remaining campers to move their belongings to the perimeter of the park, allowing staff to begin restoring the turf and park amenities.
That work began Friday, with staff closing off sections of grass while keeping pathways and sidewalks open.
The camp’s advocates say the units made available are the result of a “unit freeze” that has kept other homeless people in Vancouver from gaining housing, an allegation BC Housing has denied.
The city has said they are committed to moving as many people as possible indoors.
As for the campers’ belongings, the city said it is offering to store them securely for up to 60 days. Any unwanted belongings or items left behind will be disposed of by city and park board staff.
Vancouver police are remaining on-site to keep the peace, while fire officials are removing safety hazards to keep the park in compliance with the fire chief’s order.