A group of Downtown Vancouver residents are petitioning against the relocation of Oppenheimer Park residents, citing that there’s been a “growing sense of fear” and that many residents “no longer feel safe.”
In late April, the provincial government announced that it had planned to move people experiencing homelessness into empty hotel rooms or community spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, for up to six months, before transitioning them into permanent supportive housing.
By early May, outreach workers offered all homeless campers in Oppenheimer Park a chance to move to hotel rooms around Vancouver.
The petition, however, which was started by a group called Safer Vancouver, argues that the relocation has spread many of the problems seen by Oppenheimer Park across the downtown core.
“This relocation has exacerbated the issues stated above and has not solved these problems,” reads the online petition. “It only further spreads it throughout our city, subjecting more Vancouver residents to being victimized.”
“Oppenheimer Park Tent City was notorious for its open drug use, violent assaults, dangerous weapons, stabbings and shootings,” the petition continues. “Our downtown communities have become more dangerous and it is becoming more difficult to keep our families safe. This has been intolerable on a temporary basis and inconceivable if it persists.”
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Safer Vancouver is calling on the city to make “public safety their top priority” and argues that the temporary relocation is “not proving to be a success.”
Specifically, they’re calling for changes to issues such as illegal open drug use; aggressive, violent behaviour; discarded dirty needles and other drug paraphernalia; the relocation of Oppenheimer Park residents; encampments in community parks and public spaces; safe injection sites; and budget cuts to the Vancouver Police Department.
“There is a growing sense of fear and many no longer feel safe,” writes Safer Vancouver.
The group states, however, that the petition is not an anti-homeless campaign. Rather, they say that residents are frustrated with the “recent increase in open drug use, vandalism, local break-ins, aggressive behaviour, and violence. Safer Vancouver also notes that a lot of these issues are concentrated around local parks, leaving families “concerned for their children.”
“We have not had issues with shelters that have adequate mental health and drug addiction supports required by challenged individuals.”
Overall, they’re calling for a balanced plan that provides social services while still protecting neighbourhood residents and families, as well as more accountability from all levels of government.
They’re also asking for a “safety zone” around parks and playgrounds, which could ensure that cannabis retailers, shelters, and other similar services are a certain distance away from areas frequented by children.
The petition, since being started a week ago, has received 4,600 signatures of its 5,000-signature goal.