The business improvement association for the neighbourhood adjacent to Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park has penned a letter to city officials, pressing them for action to address the homeless camp.
The Strathcona BIA says customers and staff no longer feel safe in the neighbourhood, and wants to see a concrete plan and detailed timeline to house the homeless camp’s occupants.
“Over the last six months, the Strathcona BIA has only seen conditions worsen for both park residents and business members operating next to or near the park,” states the letter addressed to Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, all city councillors and park commissioners, as well as City Manager Sadhu Johnson.
“Given the role businesses serve in and around Oppenheimer Park in contributing to the local economy and further supporting community connections, we request the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Parks Board provide.”
Strathcona BIA executive director Theodora Lamb said the organization, which represents 800 businesses, penned the letter following the fatal assault on Jesus Cristobal-Esteban on New Year’s Day, an attack she called a “tipping point.”
She said businesses and their customers are concerned about their safety, and have been frustrated by the silence from city officials since the park board announced a plan to “decamp the park” in December, which included bringing in a third-party adviser.
“We haven’t heard anything since then. There have been events and incidents in the park, we’ve heard reports from the VPD, and then most recently there was this tragic death,” said Lamb.
“We needed to ask our elected officials what’s going to happen next, and when are you going to do something?”
The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, which has jurisdiction over the park, announced a process last month to seek an injunction to clear the park, but only after meeting several conditions, including bringing in a third-party consultant.
The board has given no timeline for the hiring of that consultant, and does not meet again until Jan. 20.
Global News has requested comment from the park board and new chair Camil Dumont.
Park supporters, however, have said there’s no use moving the homeless out of the park until there is safe, stable, long-term housing for the campers rather than just homeless shelters.
Campers have also called on the city to add resources to the encampment to make it safer, including warming tents and washrooms.