Toilet trouble sparks war of words at Oppenheimer Park

Port-a-potties seen in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park. Global News

A war of words has broken out over the status of toilets at a Vancouver park that has been the heart of a year-long homeless encampment.

Public toilets in Oppenheimer Park were closed Wednesday after a sewage backup, according to the Vancouver Park Board.

The board says it was deploying plumbers to fix the backup Thursday.

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“The washrooms will remain closed until the sewage problem is rectified, at which point they will re-open,” a board spokesperson said in a statement.

“In the interim, the four portable washrooms on site remain open. They are cleaned and re-stocked daily.”

But the cleanliness of the port-a-potties is disputed by campers, who say they are filthy and overflowing.

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READ MORE: Vancouver council approves plan to address Oppenheimer Park homeless camp

“Freezing out any of the services that actually support people here is what the mayor is really intent on doing,” camp spokesperson Chrissy Brett said.

“We no longer have people that are coming, helping support, doing the weekly cleanups that was a part of the process.”

However, Brett did admit that a port-a-potty operator may have been threatened by a camper with a knife.

She said the incident may have been a result of the lack of peer bathroom attendants to defuse any conflicts.

“People driving port-a-potty trucks are not equipped with any cultural trauma-informed type of practices,” Brett said.

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The dispute comes as police continue to warn of an escalation of violence in the Downtown Eastside they say is directly connected to the Oppenheimer camp.

READ MORE: Park Board votes for ‘collaborative’ decampment of Oppenheimer Park, but no injunction

“It’s very concerning, that’s why we’ve continued over the past few months to relay the information of the deteriorating public safety in the area and within the park,” VPD spokesperson Sgt. Aaron Roed said.

Campers, however, have denied that they are responsible for violence in the area.

“I think that there’s violence all over the place,” Brett said.

The Vancouver Park Board, which has jurisdiction over the park, has so far resisted going to court for an injunction to clear out the park.

Last month Vancouver City Council approved a plan to try and find a housing solution for the estimated 150 campers and restore the park for public use, but it came with no concrete timeline or specific housing actions.

— With files from Catherine Urquhart

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