Strathcona residents who have been living with a tent city in their largest park since June are calling on the city’s mayor and council to come up with a plan to immediately address the situation.
“This is not a new problem and yet solutions are only being explored at this stage,” said area resident Jamie Maclaren.
At a special council meeting Thursday, Mayor Kennedy Stewart brought forward a motion calling for the city to set aside $30 million to buy vacant apartment buildings, hotels, or single-room occupancy buildings to provide safe housing for people sleeping on the street and in parks.
“I think that’s an appropriate long-range strategy,” said Coun. Pete Fry, a Strathcona resident. “But I think what we’re also hoping to see is something more immediate that’s going to triage the situation.”
Many of the 34 people who signed up to speak to council about the mayor’s motion share councillor Fry’s view.
They spoke of an increase in violent crime, open drug use, garbage and intimidating behaviour in the neighbourhood since people began camping in the park.
“It’s problematic. It’s something we’re learning to deal with, I think. But it’s not sustainable,” said Maclaren.
Many in the neighbourhood who are frustrated by the city’s lack of action say the situation is dangerous for people camping in the park as well, and they’d like to see some immediate measures implemented on an emergency basis to get people out of the park and into safe shelters.
“I think the key is to sort out what the needs are in the camp currently and then to tailor the solutions to those needs,” said Maclaren. “And there’s going to be a diversity of needs so there needs to be a diversity of solutions.”
At Thursday’s meeting, council also heard from Vancouver Police Deputy Chief Howard Chow who said officers are frequently met with hostility and resistance when trying to enter the park and that firefighters and paramedics require a police escort when they work in the park.
BC Housing staff also reported problems accessing the park to conduct surveys and learn more about the needs of residents. At the meeting they told councillors that camp leadership would only allow them to speak to 12 people despite the fact the park’s population is estimated at between 200 and 400.
Council is expected to vote on the mayor’s motion Thursday evening.