The following letter was sent by the Strathcona BIA to Mayor Stewart, Vancouver City Councillors, Parks Board Commissioners and the office of the Vancouver City Manager on January 6th, 2020.
Businesses operating in and around Oppenheimer Park are no longer in a position to safely support staff and customers coming into the community. The Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA) is calling upon City and Parks Board Officials for the immediate housing of park residents and a detailed timeline on when the housing will occur.
In August 2019, the SBIA surveyed its members regarding activity in Oppenheimer Park. 83% of SBIA members surveyed agreed efforts should be made to return the park to its original purpose as a green, recreation and social space. The Strathcona BIA committed, on behalf of its members, to closely watch how the city and parks board proceed in addressing the concerns raised by local businesses in the survey results.
Unfortunately, over the last six months, the Strathcona BIA has only seen conditions worsen for both park residents and business members operating next to or near the park. The recent death that occurred in the park on January 1, 2020, is a tragic tipping point and the Strathcona BIA feels a responsibility to raise its concerns on behalf of its members with city and parks board officials, calling for support to prioritize housing immediately.
The Strathcona Safety team works to support over 800 SBIA members. This includes operating a two-person safety team 7 days a week, 8 hours a day who monitor 44 city square blocks across seven sub-districts and respond to business member needs and safety concerns.
From July 2019 to January 2020, the Strathcona BIA safety team reported that 46.9% of their time was spent in the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (DEOD) which includes Oppenheimer Park, resulting in 2,704 unique reports. That is 2.8 times more than any other sub-district the Strathcona BIA monitors and a 5% jump from the first half of 2019 when the initial survey results were reported out.
Our safety team members take every precaution to ensure their own safety is prioritized so they can address the needs and concerns of Strathcona BIA members. Given the recent activity in Oppenheimer, the Strathcona BIA can no longer direct its safety team to walk through or even along the perimeter of the park, leaving businesses surrounding the park more vulnerable.
The SBIA has also noted a significant increase in trash and debris along the perimeter of the park. 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 Oppenheimer area. From in and around the park, on average, Mission Possible picks up 7.7 needles per hour and fills 12 large garbage bags of debris each week. . After the release of our report last summer, the Strathcona BIA increased street cleaning around the park in response to members citing “Health & Cleanliness” as one of their primary park concerns. From late September to early December, the SBIA implemented an additional eight street cleaning hours in the DEOD per week.
Frustration is growing among business members who continue to feel the impact of park activity on their staff, sales, and connection with the community. Given the role businesses serve in and around Oppenheimer Park in contributing to the local economy and further supporting community connections, we request the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Parks Board provide Strathcona BIA members with an immediate response regarding next steps.
Executive Director, Strathcona BIARead More
There are many small steps one can take to offer support to those experiencing homelessness in our community. The City of Vancouver has developed a resource page with information on actions you can take in different circumstances. It is always important to check in with the person you are concerned about in a safe and compassionate manner to see if they want help, and from there you can use the resources below to assist.
To learn more about sanitation-related services offered by the City of Vancouver and the Strathcona BIA check out this blog post.Read More
Creating community-serving retail and micro-enterprises in Chinese society buildings
Increased development in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood creates pressure on existing retail and small businesses. Rising land and rent prices – and the general scarcity of affordable commercial spaces – threaten their sustainability while new commercial functions cater mostly to a far more affluent demographic and are detached from the community’s cultural heritage. This loss of cultural identity is particularly apparent in Chinatown and Strathcona. At the same time, there are many street-facing underutilized buildings in these areas that could provide far greater benefit to the community.
Joji Kumagai of the Strathcona BIA, Wilco van Bemmel of Walas Concepts and June Chow of the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown, have recently taken the initiative for a project to create community-serving retail in underutilized Chinese society buildings. Our project will create opportunities for affordable retail and micro-enterprises that serve the community, strengthen the local culture with functions that fit the community fabric and cultural identity, provide inclusive employment opportunities and improve the public realm by activating storefronts and streets.
The City of Vancouver has awarded a DTES capital grant for phase 1 of our project. In this first phase, we search for potential locations, assess retail and service gaps, build partnerships with Chinese societiesRead More
SBIA Open Letter to Vancouver Coastal Health and City Council – Supervised Injection Sites Consultation Process
The SBIA has penned an open letter to Vancouver Coastal Health and City Council regarding recent public consultations spearheaded by Vancouver Coastal Health with respect to the two new supervised injection sites in our community. A copy of the letter is below or click HERE to view our op-ed published in the Vancouver Sun.
Proposed locations for the sites are:
- The new DTES Mental Health and Substance Use Drop-In-Centre at 528 Powell
- The Heatley Integrated Health Centre at 330 Heatley
An open letter to Vancouver City Council and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH)
On September 21st, Vancouver Coastal Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer announced the location of two new proposed supervised injection sites for the Downtown Eastside (DTES), both of which are slated to open in early 2017 in Strathcona. As the representative body of 450 businesses, the Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA) welcomes the opportunity for meaningful consultation on this important matter, because what our community comprising 9,000 residents and 7,000 employees has been afforded to-date borders on shameful.
With three open houses scheduled in the middle of the work day, during the middle of the week, we gather that “official” consultation on this matter is now considered complete. This raises concern for us, not to mention the broader question as to whether this is the type of process Vancouverites can expect from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) when proposing supervised injection sites in other neighbourhoods.
In a hurry to prepare applications in response to a grave increase in overdose deaths throughout the city, VCH raced through the required process. Only a handful of the business owners and residents we work with were aware of the VCH-led open houses or had an opportunity to attend the sessions and provide input. The session I attended had less than twelve participants present.
The SBIA supports supervised injection sites and recognizes the need for these facilities, but they represent just one pillar of an overarching strategy. What is not clear at this juncture is what additional resources will be provided to support these new sites and ensure the safety of those who will use and work in them, as well as Strathcona residents, customers, and business owners who live, work and play in the community where these sites will soon operate.
As the city?s oldest neighbourhood, Strathcona has deep roots in the business community of modern Vancouver, serving as a gateway to the city for those arriving by road, sea and rail since the mid 1800?s. A “starter neighbourhood” historically, Strathcona remains a vibrant mix of industrial businesses and single family homes despite a noticeable lack of traditional amenities such as grocery stores, parks, neighbourhood pharmacies and walk-in health clinics, express transit service, sports fields, public pools or ice rinks, a community police centre, or even a post office.
Members of the SBIA are proud to be part of the DTES. However, ongoing public health issues like overdose related deaths in the area have prompted the need for renewed and meaningful dialogue with Vancouver?s policy makers on our urgent resourcing needs. Rubber stamping policies that address one issue, albeit a critical one, will not solve the broader problems communities will encounter, and could easily create new ones.
Strathcona business owners already cite safety as a primary concern due to an increase in homelessness, open substance use, and often, misinformation about the issues at hand. Currently, the Vancouver Police Department?s DTES BEAT Patrol ends at Gore Street, the border of Strathcona, but there were no indications at the VCH open houses that additional resources will be directed to the help the VPD extend their patrol into Strathcona, which experiences the same issues that are prevalent a few blocks away.
Supervised injection sites cannot exist in a silo, removed from the broader community fabric, especially amongst the mix of businesses and homes bordering the two new sites. In order to truly move the dial on issues that affect all Vancouver neighbourhoods, we need to work together – government, business, residents and advocates – to develop holistic approaches that address the health challenges we currently face. This begins with up-front, open and collaborative stakeholder engagement to ensure the community understands the importance and impact of supervised injection sites, and continues with a multipronged approach to both harm reduction and safety.
The Strathcona Business Improvement Association welcomes the opportunity to host a working session with members of Vancouver City Council, Vancouver Coastal Health and any business owner, resident, or stakeholder that wishes to build a better city.
We hope you will be in touch.
Strathcona Business Improvement Association