Local Businesses Speak Up About Oppenheimer Park
Strathcona BIA Special Report
August 13 2019, xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) unceded territories/Vancouver, BC — When it comes to Oppenheimer Park and the recent surge in camping activity, a majority of businesses in the neighbourhood agree that the park should be allowed to be a park once again. A new survey by the Strathcona Business Improvement Association found that 83% of business respondents operating in and around Oppenheimer Park agree efforts should be made to return the park to its original purpose as a green and social space. 83% of business respondents agreed efforts should be made to return the park to its original purpose The survey comes roughly a year after campers occupied the park. Today it’s estimated that there are close to 130 campers living in Oppenheimer. The Strathcona BIA serves over 850 business members in Vancouver’s Eastside community, including many directly surrounding the park. It was time to hear from them directly on how park activity has impacted their ability to participate in the community and the local economy.
Survey Themes and Business Impacts
Strathcona BIA members surveyed revealed responses from the role park space plays in the community to what the city could do to address and support campers living in the park. According to Strathcona BIA Executive Director, Theo Lamb, the results were mixed with a few specific themes and messages emerging. One thing that is clear is that businesses in and around Oppenheimer Park feel strongly that action needs to occur.
What that action looks like and how to arrive at it varied from respondent to respondent. In the survey, 88% of all respondents agreed that the Strathcona BIA has a role to play in advocacy regarding park activity.
Most concerning were reports directly from the businesses who cited loss of customers, an inability to retain staff due to feelings around lack of safety and, in one case, the closure of a business’s community serving retail location. One business in the immediate vicinity noted “the number of violent incidents has spiked in the time since it has become a tent city” and that “the number of times we have had to call 911 has risen beyond a point of reasonable expectation.” Themes of empathy and care for the campers emerged with several respondents recognizing the challenging task ahead of housing folks facing multiple barriers. One business responded that “we can’t just kick those campers out, they need somewhere to go” and another noting “I have empathy for the campers/homeless people in the park.” Several respondents indicated a preference to work to find appropriate housing alternatives first. Not surprising is the call for more support from the city in the form of:
- clean water
- more access to social services
- additional garbage bins
More bathroom access would go a long way to provide basic, humane services for campers, and in helping businesses in the area who are often left with clean up and sanitation issues in the front streets and back alleys. We only recently were able to arrange city lane flushing down the alleyways in and around Oppenheimer Park, but it’s not enough. Campers and community members need access to washrooms that stretch from day into night. While the SBIA did ask businesses if they supported a city-sanctioned tent city, an idea raised in the media recently, only 17% of business respondents reported being open to the concept. Of those respondents, several people indicated emergency housing should be dispersed throughout the City, while others felt it shouldn’t be in a city park at all. 17% of businesses open to the concept of a city-sanctioned tent city As the City of Vancouver considers its next steps, Lamb says the Strathcona BIA will continue to do its part through micro-cleaning services and the Strathcona BIA Community Safety Patrol team that responds to business member calls.
Micro-cleaners from Strathcona-based Mission Possible, a social enterprise that employs individuals who face barriers to traditional employment, spend up to 16 hours each week cleaning the area. On average, Mission Possible picks up 7.7 needles per hour and fills 12 large garbage bags of debris in and around the park each week over two 8 hour shifts. Over the last seven months (January to July 2019), the Strathcona BIA safety team has reported that 42 percent of their time has been spent in the DEOD (Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District) in and around Oppenheimer Park. That is 2.63 times more than any other sub-district the Strathcona BIA monitors and almost a quarter increase from the year before.
Lamb reflects that the Strathcona BIA intends to watch closely how the city proceeds with addressing park activity and, in the meantime, will continue to respond to the more immediate safety and sanitation needs of businesses working to keep open doors and open minds to issues that, ultimately, are the responsibility of an entire city.
Results from the survey represent Strathcona Business Improvement Association members surveyed online July 31st, 2019 through to August 8th, 2019. 59 unique members responded. Respondents were invited to answer 3 questions that included the opportunity to provide an open-ended response of which 45 respondents completed. The Strathcona BIA respects the privacy of its over 850 business members and hence quotations, while pulled directly from the survey, remain anonymous. Members in good standing with the Strathcona BIA are businesses and community-serving organizations within the SBIA catchment with valid business licenses.
About the Strathcona BIA
The Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA) operates on the unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓ əm (Musqueam), sḵwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. It extends from Clark Drive in the east, Gore Avenue in the west, Venables Street in the south and Railway Street in the north. The SBIA employs staff and is governed by an elected Board of Directors made up of business members from across the community. Our vision is for Strathcona members to thrive in a mixed-use, inclusive, resilient and prosperous local economy. Our mission is to promote a strong local economy through advocacy, cultivating relationships, supporting business participation in the community, delivering innovative programs and fostering community leaders.
For More Information/Media Contact:
Theo Lamb, Executive Director, Strathcona BIA