Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is urging B.C. Premier John Horgan to appoint a homeless czar for the city.
Stewart said with the cold and wet weather season and with the mounting number of COVID-19 cases, he wants a new minister to oversee and coordinate shelter provision and services for Vancouver’s most vulnerable population.
“Last spring, Premier Horgan appointed Minister Shane Simpson to coordinate help for Vancouver’s most vulnerable neighbours, especially in Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside, and Minister Simpson did an incredible job,” Stewart said in a release.
Working together, the province and BC Housing moved hundreds of people living in homeless camps in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park and in Victoria into more than 1,000 acquired hotel spaces earlier this year.
Stewart now wants a similar process for those living in Strathcona Park.
Hundreds of people are believed to be living in tents in the park and there have been countless clashes between homeowners and campers, with many homeowners saying they have been yelled at and threatened, and no longer feel safe.
On Sept. 23, a man was found in critical condition following what police called a serious assault in the park.
A witness told them the man had been lying there for “some time” before paramedics were called.
Adam Blackburn said he was asleep in his tent in early October when he woke up to people attacking him.
He said he was injured all over and had to get about 15 staples in his head, two surgeries on his foot, and one on his arm to reattach tendons and nerves.
Stewart said the federal government and the City of Vancouver have already secured funds for rapid housing projects and just need agreements from the province to put additional services in place by the end of November.
“We have more than $81 million ready to help house our most vulnerable neighbours. All we need now is a new minister to oversee the province’s contribution and help us get services into place to tackle the dual health crises of COVID-19 and overdoses,” Stewart said.
In a statement, the premier’s office said the issue of homelessness becomes even more significant as the cold weather approaches and that Horgan is in the process of selecting a cabinet.
“Over the past three years, the province has invested $225 million in capital funding to address homelessness in Vancouver,” the province said in the statement.
They confirmed they would open Extreme Weather Response shelters if weather conditions become too severe and they will continue work with municipalities and communities around the province but they did not directly address Stewart’s request.
Speaking on Global News Morning Monday, Vancouver police deputy chief Const. Howard Chow agreed this is a collective issue that needs to be tackled.
“A lot of these issues are street disorder problems which really don’t fall under the wheelhouse of policing, but obviously we are going to be there to support it,” he said.
“And it has to do with some of the societal issues, societal failings that we’ve had in terms of homelessness, unable to get housing, in terms of the drug addiction, mental health problems.”