Vancouver Park Board Monday night approved several measures, including a warming station and washrooms, aimed at improving conditions for those living in Oppenheimer Park.
The motion, introduced by commissioner John Irwin, directs park board staff to work with city staff to create a temporary warming station using large heated tents at Oppenheimer Park or other nearby city-owned land. It also directs staff to set up washrooms in the park that will be open 24 hours a day when the warming station is in use; explore options that would allow those camping in the park to securely keep their possessions onsite; and “continue to communicate with City staff about other possible solutions to help solve and humanize homelessness.”
Irwin noted the recent extended stretch of cold temperatures in the city and the number of people living in tents in the park. He added that he spoke to people with the Carnegie Community Action Project, who have been doing outreach work with those living in the park.
“They noted that many of the people there are Aboriginal, half or more, there’s some seniors and older people, there’s also some Chinese language people residing there and actually a family of six with two youths are actually there, or where there, I don’t know if they’re still there.”
Irwin said that in his work as a researcher, he once authored a report on homelessness for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“One of the bizarre things about it as an issue is that people might think that you’re saving money by having people not be housed but it [actually costs] more tax dollars, generally, to support them,” he said. “The Metro Vancouver’s Regional Homeless Task Force estimates that it’s around $55,000 in tax cost for a homeless person compared to $37,000 to house them.”
Commissioner Gwen Giesbrecht said that bringing services to people who need them, instead of making people come to the services, helps to foster a sense of community and gives them a sense of autonomy and respect.
“We are in the middle of a crisis and we’re in a crisis that is multi-leveled, multi-faceted and will take multi-levels of approaches to heal it,” said commissioner Gwen Geisbrecht. “But in the meantime we’ve got people sleeping rough outdoors. For whatever reason that works best for those people they have chosen to be in Oppenheimer Park, that is where they would like to stay and that is where they need to be supported.”
Last week, the B.C. government announced $3.1 million in funding to keep eight Vancouver winter shelters, totalling 240 beds, open for the next year. The shelters would normally close as of March 31.
The move came after Coun. Jean Swanson tabled a motion at council Feb. 26 requesting that shelters be kept open year round and 24/7. Many shelters are only open overnight and people have to leave every morning.
“I’m hoping we can still continue to work on getting them open 24/7 so people have a place where they can be, like if they’re sick,” Swanson said last week before council voted on the motion. “A lot of people that are in the shelters are sick, they have a lot of health issues. I’ve talked to them. They have cancer, they have heart issues, they have diabetes, they have other issues. It would be nice for people to be able to stay inside and not have to leave during the day.”
With files from Mike Howell