The Vancouver Park Board held its first meeting since the winter break Monday night, but how to deal with the entrenched homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park was not on the agenda.
The board sent out a media release hours before the meeting saying that it was in the “final stages” of procuring a third party to help it facilitate a “decampment” of the park.
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Hiring a third party was one of several key steps the board seemed to be necessary in early December, before it would seek an injunction to order campers to vacate. Amending the city’s camping in parks bylaw and securing housing for the campers are also required in that plan.
The release provided no timeline to hire the third party.
The Non-Partisan Association (NPA)’s John Coupar, one of two park commissioners who have been pushing for an injunction since early summer, said he’s frustrated with the board’s pace.
“The board works under majority rules. They are moving forward with some steps, I’m happy to see those steps going forward, though obviously I’d like to see them go a little faster,” he said.
“It’s taken longer than I would have liked.”
Coupar said area residents and nearby businesses are feeling forgotten by the city as the situation in the park deteriorates, pointing to a deadly assault on New Year’s Day.
But former board chair and Green Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon defended the board’s approach, saying clearing the park without a bigger plan is pointless.
“Get an injunction and where will those people go?” he asked.
“They’re not going to go to Point Grey (Park), they’re not going to go to Killarney, they’re going to stay there, but they’re going to be on the streets, they’re going to be in the doorways, they’re going to be in the alleyways. How is that better?”
Mackinnon couldn’t say when the board would bring on its third-party consultant, other than to say an announcement was “imminent.”
But he said the board has been left to deal with an issue — homelessness — that is far out of the scope of its powers or resources.
“We know that Oppenheimer is a symptom of the problem, it is not the problem itself,” said Mackinnon. “We have people camping in many of our parks in the city.”
He said the root cause of the Oppenheimer encampment, and the cycle of evicting homeless people from parks and their subsequent return, won’t be addressed until there is adequate housing for the homeless.