British Columbia

Kicking homeless from Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park won't reduce crime, says park board chair

Vancouver Park Board Commissioner, Stuart Mackinnon, says the board has yet to see a plan from Mayor Kennedy Stewart on how the city would tackle the tent city.

Police say they're concerned about safety at Oppenheimer Park

Vancouver fire and park board officials take away mattresses while checking on vacant tents at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, British Columbia on Aug. 20, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As the city's mayor and police department warn about rising violent crime rates in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and the direct correlation with a homeless camp in the area, the park board chair says shutting down the camp will not solve the problem. 

The park board — Canada's only directly-elected municipal park board — has authority over the park, not the City of Vancouver.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart has called on the board to relinquish authority over Oppenheimer Park so the city could implement its own solution, but the park board has resisted. 

Stuart Mackinnon, the park board chair, said part of the reason is Stewart has not provided the board with a plan as to how the city would address the problem except hinting it would kick campers out

"What we need is housing for these people. We need a plan for them. We asked for two things we asked for a short term plan and a long term plan. We've seen neither," Mackinnon told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition.

"Simply moving [the campers] out of the park with no plan doesn't make anybody safer."

So far, the board has resisted applying for an injunction to remove the people camping in the park. 

Growing safety concerns

In recent days, the Vancouver Police Department renewed concerns about safety at Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside, warning the level of public safety in the area is deteriorating. 

John Coupar, another commissioner on the board, says in light of these concerns the park board needs to move in a different direction. 

"We've seen conditions get worse and worse. So obviously the strategy [Commissioner Mackinnon] is moving on is not working," Coupar said. 

"He's not the chair of the housing authority. He's the chair of the park board — his role and our role as commissioners is to ensure a clean and safe parks for everyone. And right now that Oppenheimer Park is neither clean nor safe."

Coupar and his fellow NPA park board commissioner, Tricia Barker, have called for a special meeting on the state of Oppenheimer Park with senior City of Vancouver staff, the Vancouver Police Department, and Vancouver Fire Rescue Services management staff Thursday.

In the meantime, Mackinnon meets with the mayor for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting Wednesday. 

Listen to the segment here:

With files from The Early Edition