Advertisement

Coronavirus: BC Housing to move homeless people out of Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park

Oppenheimer Park tent city to be removed
Global News has learned that after more than a year and a half, action is going to be taken to remove the Oppenheimer Park tent city. Jordan Armstrong reports.

The B.C. government is expected to announce plans on Saturday to move the homeless campers at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park into temporary housing, in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among an already at-risk group of people.

Global News has learned that BC Housing will lead a coordinated plan to move people out of the controversial tent city in the Downtown Eastside, starting on Saturday and over the coming weeks, and into safer accommodation.

READ MORE: Who’s in charge of Oppenheimer Park? Activists say they are, and park board doesn’t disagree

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson is expected to make the formal announcement on Saturday at 10 a.m., as part of the province’s larger plan to support homeless people in Vancouver and Victoria.

BC Housing will gradually help transfer people and their belongings at what is being described as a moderate speed, and will work with each person to accommodate their individual needs.

Story continues below advertisement

The City of Vancouver and BC Housing have identified eight locations, including six hotels, as the province continues to secure spaces for people experiencing homelessness.

On the beat with the VPD at Oppenheimer Park
On the beat with the VPD at Oppenheimer Park

Mayor Kennedy Stewart has said it’s only “a matter of time” before the virus is reported in the neighbourhood, especially with many of its residents suffering from underlying health conditions and having none of their own space in which to self-isolate.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

City staff set up makeshift shelters at two community centres, hired commercial cleaners for high-priority single-room occupancy hotels, and added bathrooms and shelters in the area.

But under the weight of the pandemic, the mayor has said the city just doesn’t have the money to build the housing that’s needed.

Steps the City of Vancouver is taking to help vulnerable residents in DTES
Steps the City of Vancouver is taking to help vulnerable residents in DTES

“Right now, the conditions are absolutely deplorable for anyone who’s on the street or living in a camp or a park,” said Jeremy Hunka, spokesperson with the Union Gospel Mission.

“We know it will be hard and complicated (and) complex to move a large number of people into safe spaces with rapidity, but if this pandemic is as threatening as we’re being told — and it is — we absolutely need to take massive action.”

All of the facilities used to house residents of Oppenheimer Park will include wrap-around services to support vulnerable people. Two outreach workers from PHS Community Services, formerly known as the Portland Hotel Society, will help connect residents with housing.

Story continues below advertisement