British Columbia

'I still have a lot of work to do': Vancouver mayor addresses Downtown Eastside residents' concerns

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart admitted he has a lot of work to do on homelessness and the overdose crisis as he addressed concerns about the Downtown Eastside on CBC's The Early Edition on Monday morning.

Kennedy Stewart answered questions live on CBC Radio's The Early Edition

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speaks with media during a press conference in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart admitted he has a lot of work to do on homelessness and the overdose crisis as he addressed concerns about the Downtown Eastside on CBC's The Early Edition on Monday morning.

In August, the mayor agreed with host Stephen Quinn that the neighbourhood is in the worst shape he has ever seen.

His comments sparked weeks of coverage by CBC Vancouver on what is infamously known as the drug and homeless epicentre of the province, culminating in a CBC town hall this past weekend where the mayor's absence was noted by many attendees.

Stewart told Quinn on Monday he was unable to attend the "powerful voicing of community concerns" but what he heard from long-time residents and activists at the event "reinforced what we know" that housing and overdose deaths are the city's top concerns.

"I still have a lot of work to do," said Stewart, adding he has had numerous conversations with the federal government to secure help on both fronts.

Join CBC for a look at how overdose deaths, homelessness and mental illness have affected Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and communities across B.C., as well as possible solutions. 1:25:03

He said he is working with Ottawa to get a federal health exemption, which is necessary to provide clean drugs legally to users.

Stewart said it is challenging because safe supply is a "hot-button issue" with a federal election approaching, but said he spoke with the prime minister 10 days ago and his response to the idea of a health exemption was "very positive."

"If it doesn't come, I will make a lot of noise," Stewart added.

The mayor said Ottawa also announced a $184 million investment in affordable housing in Vancouver in August and that money will accelerate the creation of 1,100 social housing units in the city.

At Saturday's town hall in the Downtown Eastside, attendees called on the mayor to visit Oppenheimer Park tent city.

Stewart said he did visit the park twice on Friday. He also said Monday that there has been an abduction and assault of a minor at Oppenheimer, as well as other things that are "deeply concerning" and have not been made public.

The mayor has asked the park board to turn temporary control of the park over to himself and city council if the board can't "move ahead" on the park situation.

Activists and Oppenheimer Park residents released a statement Monday saying they plan to occupy city hall grounds Monday and Tuesday in anticipation of what they are calling "a hostile takeover bid" of the park by the city. 

To hear the complete interview with Mayor Kennedy Stewart, click on the audio link below:

Kennedy Stewart speaks with Stephen Quinn about safe supply and problems plaguing the city's downtown eastside. 14:35

With files from The Early Edition

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