Vancouver business group calls for city-sanctioned homeless camp and services
As many as 110 tents are set up in Oppenheimer Park on any given day, park board says
With the growing number of tents in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park, there's little room for much else — and that's got some people calling for a permanent, city-sanctioned homeless camp instead.
It's an idea that's been proposed to council previously and now the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association is weighing in.
"The city should move forward on this rather than having Oppenheimer Park as the only site," said Charlies Gauthier, president and CEO of the association.
According to estimates from the Vancouver Park Board, as many as 110 tents are onsite daily at Oppenheimer Park.
"It's de facto become a [city-sanctioned homeless camp]," Gauthier told CBC's On The Coast.
"We need to finally say that we're going to sanction, as a city, a particular area or maybe multiple locations where we encourage people to go to rather than sleeping in parks and rather than on city sidewalks," Gauthier said.
Several recent events, such as the Powell Street Festival and the Union Gospel Mission's annual summer barbecue, have had to move to different locations as more and more people without homes turn to the park.
Festival organizers previously told CBC that they don't want to displace anyone.
The city's latest homelessness count for 2019, released last month, showed 2,223 people who identified as homeless.
That's a slight increase from the year before, despite the city's new modular housing complexes, and the fourth year in a row that the number has increased.
Gauthier is pushing for more than sanctioned sites. He said he hopes to see heated structures, washrooms and showers, meals offered, and "wrap-around" services like nurses and social service workers made available.
"At the end of the day, if people still want to camp outdoors in a non-sanctioned site, they have the ability to do that," he said.
"But there may be other people that want to be in a safer location."
With files from On The Coast