By Angela Espinoza, News Editor
After two and 1/2 months, Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park tent city was ruled to disband on September 26. Over 200 people were living in the makeshift camp from mid-July until its forced closure in late September. The City of Vancouver says that all of the former inhabitants of the camp now have the opportunity to find housing.
In attempt to create spaces for Vancouver’s alarming homeless numbers, rooms have opened up at a former restaurant on 900 Pacific Street, the Union Gospel Mission, and the Quality Inn on Howe. The Quality Inn specifically is to be torn down in two to three years, but until then Vancouver has stated that the hotel will be used to offer affordable housing.
Vancouver’s count of people either homeless or living on the street doubled from 273 last year to 538 this year, as of March. “This is very frustrating news to see the street count that high,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson at a press conference in April.
The residency of the Oppenheimer tent city increased after the initial dozen protestors were presented with eviction notices, garnering the attention of hundreds. Originally the protest was meant to raise awareness of the overwhelming homeless numbers and to reassert the city’s recognition this year as unceded Coast Salish land.
Dismantling the tent city was ruled necessary as Vancouver’s weather has rapidly worsened since the summer, and numerous cases of health and safety risks were brought to the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) attention. Amongst many other issues, violence, unsanitary living conditions inside the tents, and drug trafficking had the city viewing the community as a threat unto itself.
In an affidavit written by VPD Inspector Howard Chow, 21 points were listed in requesting the closure of the camp, citing fear that a potential homicide or drug overdose was likely to occur. Chow referenced the overdose and death of 23-year-old Ashlie Gough within 2011’s Occupy Vancouver tent city as a source for concern.
Chow also stated that maintaining security on behalf of the VPD has totalled roughly $75,000 in overtime to keep the park safe. According to the Globe and Mail, as of September 18, “364 documented police calls and 170 cited incidents” had occurred since the camp’s settlement in July.
Permanent housing areas are set to open later his year on Fraser Street, Princess Avenue, and Boundary Road, offering a total of nearly 300 units.