British Columbia

'It's time': Weekend shooting near Oppenheimer Park sparks renewed call for eviction

The shooting of a 53-year-old woman near Oppenheimer Park on Saturday has reinvigorated calls from a Vancouver city councillor for the Vancouver Park Board to evict the many homeless people living in tents at the park. 

Park board rejected an injunction last month that would have seen people removed from park

A 53-year-old bystander was shot near Oppenheimer Park on Saturday. (CBC News/Harman)

The shooting of a 53-year-old woman near Oppenheimer Park on Saturday has reinvigorated calls from a Vancouver city councillor for the Vancouver Park Board to evict the many homeless people living in tents at the park. 

At the end of September, the park board voted against an injunction to evict people living there. The board chose instead to help them leave voluntarily by connecting them with housing resources.

But Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung says the risk to public safety near Oppenheimer Park has reached a boiling point and action needs to be taken.

"It's time," said Kirby-Yung. "It's not safe for people in the park and it's not safe for people near the park."

Kirby-Yung says she isn't surprised a bystander was injured near the park, considering how the area has deteriorated, according to the Vancouver Police Department.

Last month, police issued a warning about an increase in violence, weapons and police calls in the area, adding they have seen increased activity from gangs vying for territory.

"Luckily we didn't have a loss of life this time," said Kirby-Yung. "But it's irresponsible to let it go on in case we do [have a fatality] in the future." 

The victim — a woman from Powell River, B.C. — was shot while stopped in a vehicle on Dunlevy Avenue, just west of the park, according to police. She had been visiting a man who's living at the encampment.

Investigators are still working to determine who the intended target was, VPD Sgt. Aaron Roed said earlier. 

Vancouver city Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung says the risk to the public's safety near Oppenheimer Park has reached a boiling point. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Legally, Oppenheimer Park falls under the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Park Board and not city council, which is why Kirby-Yung is calling on the board to work with council to take action. She has the support of at least two other city councillors. 

Kirby-Yung says she recognizes that pursuing an injunction is a difficult decision but says that is the point of leadership, adding the needs of the homeless can't come at the expense of the public's safety, but that both issues require appropriate attention.

"[The shooting] is an avoidable tragedy and that's what I'm trying to point out," said Kirby-Yung.

No plan to vote on another injunction

Despite the increase in calls for action, park board Commissioner John Irwin says spreading out the residents of Oppenheimer Park will only create the illusion of a solution rather than tackle the root issues of homelessness and addiction.

And while Irwin recognizes that the shooting was a tragedy, he says the increase in violence can't be directly tied to the encampment — despite the VPD opinion that it is; instead, Irwin says it's an overarching result of the opioid crisis.

"I don't think the fact that they're concentrated necessarily creates the situation," said Irwin.

Vancouver fire and park officials take away mattresses while checking on vacant tents at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver on Aug. 20. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Irwin says there have been no new motions to vote on an injunction and admits there are currently no plans at the park board to address the ongoing situation at Oppenheimer, aside from September's commitment to support the homeless if they voluntarily choose to leave.

Ultimately, Irwin admits the situation at the park is difficult. 

"It's definitely a tragedy and it's definitely a crisis and trying to figure out how to attack it is, I think, complicated," he said. 

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