Park board plan to address safety, cleanliness in Vancouver parks

Vancouver Park Board will work with the city and police to address safety concerns in Vancouver parks.

On Nov. 6, board commissioners unanimously approved a motion directing staff to “develop a comprehensive and sustainable” park ranger service model in consultation with police and the city to address safety, security and cleanliness “particularly in relation to the increased use of injectable drugs in Vancouver parks.”

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Last month, NPA commissioner John Coupar brought forward a motion asking for additional funding from city council to increase park ranger patrols to 24 hours a day, as well as additional funding for maintaining the cleanliness of parks.

At the time, he shared some statistics from park maintenance staff — in July, 367 discarded needles were found in Andy Livingstone Park near Chinatown. Another 1,000 new, unopened needles were found scattered at Strathcona Park. And, in August, 488 needles were found in Andy Livingstone Park alone.

“This is a big problem and I think we all need to do our part,” he said last month. “I think we’re well past the point where we can have part-time rangers looking after what has become a very serious safety issue in our parks.”

Park rangers currently patrol the city’s parks between 7 a.m. and midnight seven days a week. During Monday’s meeting, Howard Normann, director of parks, noted that moving to 24-hour patrols would cost an estimated $485,000 a year, not including the cost of support staff such as supervision and dispatch.

Safety and cleanliness in and around the city’s parks has become an increasing concern in recent years.

On average, rangers are removing around 40 discarded needles a day and have responded to, investigated and resolved 1,945 homeless-related cases already this year, Normann said.

“Vancouver’s current opioid crisis and homeless challenges have had significant impact on the safety and cleanliness of many urban parks,” staff noted in a report. “Injectable drug use in public spaces has led to mounting community concern regarding park safety and cleanliness, particularly around discarded needles in areas where children play.”

The increasing number of people camping out overnight in parks is also becoming more of a concern.

The board has made some changes, in collaboration with the City of Vancouver, over the last year in an attempt to address the issues.

In January, a permanent satellite park ranger station was set up in the fieldhouse at Andy Livingstone Park. As well, with the opening of Crosstown elementary school, which is adjacent to the park, and increasing concerns in the community about the number of discarded needles found in the area, particularly around the playground, a dedicated park ranger patrol was assigned to the park from dawn to dusk every day.

The board also added two security attendants five days a week at Andy Livingstone and Creekside parks aimed at providing more frequent service to the playground and public washrooms. More funding was put into the park ranger program this year, increasing the number of rangers from five to 12.

The board reached a service agreement with the city’s engineering department to help with six parks in the Downtown Eastside. That agreement, and the one for the two security attendants, will expire at the end of the year.

“These temporary additional services were funded through the Park Operations budget in 2017 — pending review of the best approach moving forward, funds have not yet been committed for 2018,” staff said in a report. “As well, the issue of homelessness and park impact is complex and has many related legal issues that require proper analysis.”

NPA commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung added an amendment, which was approved unanimously, to Monday’s motion that the board continue with the agreement in 2018.

jkerr@vancourier.com

 @JessicaEKerr

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