No timeline yet for progress on Oppenheimer tent city 'decampment plan'

Credit to Author: Dan Fumano| Date: Tue, 07 Jan 2020 02:00:12 +0000

A recent death should be seen as “a tragic tipping point” for the encampment that has grown in Oppenheimer Park over the last year, a local business group wrote in a letter to civic leaders Monday, requesting a “detailed timeline” on when park residents could be housed.

But four weeks after the Vancouver park board directed staff to find a third-party organization to help guide the “decampment” plan in the park, there is no timeline yet in place for when that third party might be engaged, newly elected board chairman Camil Dumont said Monday.

On Dec. 9, the park board directed staff to engage a third-party organization to assess the situation in Oppenheimer and make recommendations for a “decampment plan” to safely house the roughly 40 people living there. The board also authorized park board general manager Malcolm Bromley to seek a court injunction to clear the park, after certain conditions were met, including the engagement of that third party. In September, the board had rejected Bromley’s earlier recommendation to clear the park with an injunction.

In previous years, the park board has authorized the use of court injunctions to clear encampments in Oppenheimer, including most recently in 2014.

“There’s a perception that nothing’s happening, but really we’re trying to do this as well as possible, and we’re trying to do it right, and that comes at the expense of doing something quick,” Dumont said. The board is trying to return Oppenheimer to its intended use as a park, but trying to do so “in a way that hasn’t been done before. The injunction route has been the one and only tool, and it’s a very blunt tool, and it’s a very, very delicate situation.”

Park rangers and VPD walk through Oppenheimer park in Vancouver, BC, November 27, 2019. Arlen Redekop / PNG

The park board has been talking with local groups who might take on that third-party role, Dumont said Monday, but it’s not clear yet when they may finalize an arrangement or how long that work might take.

But for Theodora Lamb, the Strathcona Business Improvement Association’s (BIA) executive director, “that’s just not a good enough answer,” she said Monday. Earlier that day, Lamb sent a letter to the park board and council on behalf of businesses operating around Oppenheimer.

Lamb’s letter referred to the death of local man Jesus Cristobal-Esteban after a Jan. 1 assault in Oppenheimer, an incident police are calling Vancouver’s first homicide of 2020. That death, Lamb’s letter said, “is a tragic tipping point and the Strathcona BIA feels a responsibility to raise its concerns … calling for support to prioritize housing immediately.”

Dumont said that while the death is tragic, it doesn’t change the plan approved last month by the board.

“I don’t see how having a knee-jerk reaction to this event is better,” Dumont said. “I feel like we’re on a course that I believe in.”

Lamb said: “I know everyone is trying to move forward and it’s really complex. But from our perspective, we’ve been pretty disappointed on the communications that have been coming from the city and from our elected officials.”

Josh Miller stands near his tent at Oppenheimer park in Vancouver, BC, November 27, 2019. Arlen Redekop / PNG

Fiona York, a Carnegie Community Action Project coordinator who has been advocating for Oppenheimer residents, has also been frustrated by what she called a lack of response from the city. York has been lobbying the city for permission to operate a warming tent in Oppenheimer, but there has been no progress, even as the weather gets colder and next week’s forecast calls for snow.

Dumont said he doesn’t know when the arrangement with the third-party group will be finalized and announced, but the board hopes to make a public update on Oppenheimer within the next week.

The park board’s next public meeting is scheduled for Jan. 20 at 6:30 p.m.