A Vancouver business leader is calling on the city to look south of the border for solutions to the entrenched homeless camp in Oppenheimer Park.
Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DTVBIA), says Vancouver should consider emulating the city-sanctioned homeless “camps” that San Diego has established.
“To just say let them sleep in a park or let them sleep on city sidewalks, I think that’s a bit of a cop out,” Gauthier told Global News.
“Why can’t we look at these other kinds of solutions that other cities have done, like San Diego where it’s a hard-shell tent structure that can get erected pretty quickly, bunk-bed style approaches with toilets and showers, and people that are there to help these people in need.”
San Diego, like Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and other west coast cities, has struggled to cope with growing homelessness in recent years.
In 2017, it tried a different approach, opening three industrial-sized tents which could hold 700 people, using $6.5 million from its permanent housing budget.
“It’s all doable. It’s a lot better than what we’re currently experiencing,” said Gauthier of the Sand Diego idea.
Gauthier’s pitch comes as Vancouver’s council and park board struggle to address the year-old camp. Both bodies have resisted applying for a court injunction to force campers out of the park.
An estimated 50 people are still living in the park, and with the weather getting colder, campers have begun turning to dangerous ways to keep warm.
The city said Friday that campers have been defying orders from the fire department and using propane heaters and stoves — believed to be responsible for two recent fires in the park.
Perhaps more alarming, the city said someone at the park dug down to an underground power conduit in an attempt to tap into electricity for portable heaters.
Police calls to the park are up 53 per cent in 2019 over last year so far. The civic response has been estimated to be $1 million for 2019 alone.
Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Park Commissioner Tricia Barker, meanwhile, told Global News that it’s time to end the encampment, saying she’s worried that someone will get killed in the park before officials take action.
“We’d like to get them to a place that is safer, and with the cold weather coming in people will do almost anything to get warm. That’s why you see the propane heaters, you see these other really dangerous aspects coming out,” she said.
“It’s time to clear out the park, but until one of the other commissioners changes their mind, it’s going to stay like this.”
The city has previously said its outreach teams are continuing to try to connect campers with shelters and housing, while further attempting to understand their needs if they decide to stay in the park.
— With files from Paul Johnson and the Associated Press