Vancouver Park Board appoints former B.C. Housing leader to new role working with homeless communities
Betty Lepps to serve as 'conduit' between those experiencing homelessness, support services, community members
The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation has announced a former B.C. Housing leader will fill the role of its first-ever director of urban relationships, created to help respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness and who sleep or shelter in city parks.
Betty Lepps, whose position was announced on Monday, says while the specific details of her role are still "in development," she will be acting as a "conduit" between those experiencing homelessness, support services, and other members of the community, to build relationships and ensure the safety of everyone who uses the park.
"[My hope] is to try and find common ground," she said. "How do we support everybody in making parks a better place for everyone?"
As Vancouver continues to grapple with its housing crisis, former tent cities in public parks like Strathcona and Oppenheimer, and a current encampment in CRAB Park have often become visual reminders of the scale of the problem, and have been points of contention for some who say they want to safely enjoy these public spaces.
Donnie Rosa, general manager for the Vancouver Park Board, said the new role is "long overdue" and believes the position is unique in Canada.
"People sheltering in parks is not an operational issue, it's a human condition that needs a human approach," said Rosa, referencing Lepp's former experience for B.C. Housing as the regional director of supportive housing and shelters, where she helped house nearly 300 people who were camped in Strathcona Park last year.
Lepps told CBC's On The Coast that in the lead-up to relocating the campers, she worked directly with the unhoused by holding "campers' meetings," where she would talk to them about their needs.
A release from the Park Board says Lepps has worked with over 100 programs and organizations to help the most vulnerable in Vancouver, has experience in developing policy, and has been "instrumental in developing the first Indigenous restorative justice court in Calgary."
Lepps said work to house the community currently living in CRAB Park is ongoing, and that she hopes her new role will help speed up the process.
She said she hopes to build a team of workers to further her goals, after the Park Board works out the specifics of her new role.
With files from On The Coast