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Coronavirus: B.C. details next steps to move campers out of Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park

B.C. government begins clearing homeless camps in Vancouver and Victoria
The B.C. government says it has begun moving homeless people out of tent cities in Vancouver and Victoria, and into hotels and other facilities. Grace Ke reports.

B.C.’s minister of social development has outlined the next steps in the province’s plan to move people out of Oppenheimer Park on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to help prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

In an interview with Global News, Shane Simpson made it clear that the government intends to close the park and not see tents return.

“We are going to know over the next couple of days if there are people worried or anxious about the move,” he said. “And then we will be able to look at if there are things we can do to accommodate them to make them more comfortable.

“We will know in seven to 10 days what that core group is that is resistant to move.”

READ MORE: Oppenheimer Park campers say province’s housing plan leaves out those in more urgent need

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Last weekend, the province announced its intention to move people out of the controversial homeless camp, as well as two camps in Victoria, to safer temporary housing, including six hotels, over the next few weeks.

Tenters and their advocates have said the plan only focuses on the most visible of Vancouver’s homeless population, and that thousands of others need the accommodation more.

READ MORE: Vancouver mayor clarifies ‘misinformation’ about city finances, renews call for provincial help

Simpson reiterated that the move is part of a much bigger process now being undertaken that could fundamentally change the Downtown Eastside, including preliminary discussions with community service providers around support for everyone who needs support in the area.

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“Our intention is to house people on a long-term basis,” he said. “It could be more modular. There are a number of options here. We will have to work through it with the municipalities.”

Province unveils plan to shelter tent city residents in Vancouver and Victoria
Province unveils plan to shelter tent city residents in Vancouver and Victoria

As for the concern of security around the hotels, Simpson said security guards are there and that staff will be monitoring the accommodation 24/7 to ensure residents and the public are safe, and added that police have also been made aware.

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On Sunday, BC Housing staff helped to move five or six people from the park. Staff are working with residents to determine what kind of accommodation they need, based on whether they’re single or in a  couple and whether they have pets.

Oppenheimer Park tent city to be removed
Oppenheimer Park tent city to be removed

He said the government’s intention is to carry out the move slowly, over the next two weeks, to ensure staff are not overwhelmed and that proper supports are set up at the new homes.

“We will be supplying full meals for people every day. Full cleaning service, laundry service, primary health-care and specialty health-care for mental health and addictions will be available as well.”

-With files from Grace Ke and Sean Boynton