Most of Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside will finally reopen today after over two years of being inaccessible to the general public.
The Vancouver Park Board states the west side of the park will reopen, although the fencing will remain around the full perimeter of the park. The east side of the park — including the fieldhouse, playground, and house posts — will remain closed as they require further repairs.
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A homeless encampment developed at the park in October 2018 and gradually grew to about 200 tents by August 2019, rendering it unusable to the general public as a park.
The encampment finally closed in June 2020, after the provincial government provided housing to campers. Remnants of the encampment relocated to Crab Park, which was short-lived after the Port of Vancouver was successful in its court application for an injunction to clear the park.
Campers at Crab Park then quickly moved to Strathcona Park, which later exponentially grew in size throughout the pandemic, and only came to a closure in late April 2021 after indoor shelter was provided to residents.
However, given the extreme living conditions for individuals in the camps and the impacts on public safety, residents, and businesses, the Vancouver Park Board has come under fire for its handling of both of the prolonged encampments at Oppenheimer and Strathcona parks.
As of May 2021, costs associated with the Oppenheimer Park encampment are estimated to be at least $3.5 million, including $1 million for city operations, $418,000 for Park Board costs, $113,000 for decampment costs, $780,000 in policing costs, and $1.2 million in park repair and restoration costs. This does not include the costs incurred by Vancouver Fire Rescue.
Oppenheimer Park was fenced off for significant repairs starting in June 2020 after the closure of the encampment.
The Park Board says it is currently “piloting” various furnishings on the west side of the park, such as natural log seating, a shared garden area activated by Watari and Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, and heavy-duty wood tables for eating and socializing. The tables will arrive next month.
The fieldhouse at the east side of the park is still closed for repairs, but the Park Board will install a washroom trailer and site office on the park’s west end to ensure the public and staff have access to washrooms.
According to a release, staff from Carnegie Community Centre will provide programs and services in the park, including arts and crafts, physical wellness activities, music programming, drinks, and “other forms of check-ins with people.”
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