UPDATED: Vancouver park board approves additional actions to clear Oppenheimer Park

Commissioners voted to seek an injunction once certain conditions are met

Vancouver Park Board has taken a step closer to seeking a court injunction to remove campers from Oppenheimer Park.

During an in-camera meeting Monday, the board approved additional measures to support the “decampment plan” for the park and including a conditional injunction. According to a press release, commissioners directed staff to “work with partners to meet a number of conditions to further the voluntary decampment plan, supported by an injunction once conditions are met.”

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The conditions include: bringing in a third party to conduct an independent assessment of the current situation in Oppenheimer Park and provide recommendations to enhance safety, provide support and seek appropriate shelter for people camping in the park.

“This work will be done with a commitment to the principles of reconciliation and in consultation with those in the park,” the press release states.

Commissioners also directed staff to “deepen existing partnerships between the City, BC Housing, and the Park Board” and to revise the current bylaw, which precludes people from sheltering in parks, in order to bring it up to current standards, in accordance with other municipalities, and to meet legal precedent.

The board has authorized general manager Malcolm Bromley to seek an injunction once those conditions are met.

“While we know this will take time, I am optimistic that we have developed a plan to improve conditions for people experiencing homelessness in Oppenheimer Park and to move to a safe resolution to the current encampment in the park,” said Stuart Mackinnon, board chair.

“The board is committed to enacting a compassionate and holistic approach to this difficult and complicated challenge that touches everyone in our community.”

The park board said Tuesday that there is no timeline for meeting the conditions for an injunction.

“The board is aware there is an increased sense of urgency to provide a solution that addresses the mounting safety concerns for those in and around the park,” the board said in an email to the Courier.

The move comes in light of increasing concerns around conditions in the park with winter weather setting in.

Late last month two fires, believed to be started by propane heaters and barbecues, destroyed tents and other belongings.

“People sleeping in the park have also tried to tap into underground electricity cables to power electric heaters and VFRS [Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services] staff are encountered active resistance to their efforts to address conditions that pose an extremely high risk of injury or death,” the city said Friday in a statement.

The park board has resisted seeking a court injunction for several months.

Bromley first ordered campers out of the park back in August. A notice was issued and campers were given two days to remove all tents and structures. Many did, with more than 100 accepting housing offers from the city.

Many remained, however, and the encampment has grown since then.

In early September, the park board voted against seeking a court injunction and maintained that stance later in the month, passing a motion asking the city and province to continue to look for housing for people experiencing homelessness. 

The motion also pushed for temporary housing and shelter options that are “accessible, safe and dignified” in order to bridge the gap until longer-term housing is available; commits to the goal of voluntarily “decampment” at Oppenheimer; and, encourages park board staff to meet with people camping in the park.

-  With files from Mike Howell and John Kurucz

This story has been updated since it was originally posted.

@JessicaEKerr

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