We’re sharing a letter prepared by the Strathcona Residents Association, Strathcona Business Improvement Association, Produce Row Business Committee, Strathcona Community Safety Association, and Strathcona Community Policing Centre regarding the current homeless encampment at Strathcona Park. Jointly representing over 850 businesses and over 16,000 residents in Strathcona, these organizations have come together share our views with Municipal and Provincial Leaders.
June 25, 2020
Honourable John Horgan, Premier, Province of BC
Honourable Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Province of BC
Honourable Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Province of BC
Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, Province of BC
Mayor Kennedy Stewart, City of Vancouver
Vancouver Park Board Comissioners, City of Vancouver
Vancouver City Councillors, City of Vancouver
Re: An Appeal for Immediate Action in Strathcona Park
On behalf of organizations representing the residents and businesses of Strathcona, we are asking for urgent support and attention from the BC Provincial Government, the City of Vancouver, and the Vancouver Park Board to immediately clear Strathcona Park of its current encampment and identify a permanent site for campers, therefore bringing the cycle of displacement to an end.
As representatives of over 850 businesses and 16,470 residents living in and operating across the district and community of Strathcona, we must work to strike a balance between the needs and safety of both the campers themselves and the community that surrounds them. Our organizations operate with sincere respect and compassion for our city’s current homeless situation and all those impacted by it, and with continuing mission commitments to serve the disadvantaged and underprivileged in our midst.
Strathcona Park is unambiguously the wrong place for government, through inaction, to seemingly encourage and endorse acceptance of this ad-hoc campground. Our collective community experiences from Oppenheimer Park show us that, with even the best intentions demonstrated by community organizers and the campers themselves, violence, sexual assault, and crime are inevitable outcomes of a community constantly facing displacement under the lagging attention of all levels of government. The businesses and residents who directly surround Oppenheimer Park carried the costly burden of these community impacts and our concern is that this cycle is set to repeat itself at Strathcona Park.
Strathcona has long been deeply underserved in greenspace compared to other districts and communities in Vancouver. With Oppenheimer Park still out of commission, and summer arriving amidst a global pandemic, the need for greenspace has never been greater. This will be all the more critical as we approach BC’s Phase 3 of pandemic reopening and the July 1st beginning of the city’s recreational sports programming. The current encampment will inevitably grow beyond the bounds of any partition within Strathcona Park, and beyond the capacity of any internal, external or collaborative effort to manage it safely for all concerned. This will cripple opportunities for residents, employees of local businesses, gardeners, dog walkers, sports teams, children’s daycamps and anyone seeking to enjoy the park space. Distancing guidelines mandated by the Office of the Provincial Health Officer underline the need to have large, accessible, local outdoor spaces available to community residents, employees, and visitors.
The issues are complex. So are the solutions – we acknowledge that safe, supportive housing is what’s ultimately required and will not be quickly found or created. But this cycle of displacement of temporary encampments in our public parks must and can end with a city-sanctioned site for campers, where resources and support can be directed and the surrounding community can be mobilized to ensure the best outcomes for all those involved.
The community of Strathcona, which is in many respects part of the Downtown Eastside, is under no illusions regarding its responsibility to our city’s most vulnerable citizens. We know we will be called upon to support our homeless community, time and again. We know that more housing is needed to support those who seek refuge in our city parks. We are asking our provincial and municipal government leaders not to shirk their formal responsibility in this matter. With appropriate will and resolve there are much better places to facilitate a stable, sustainable encampment until more enduring solutions can be implemented.
We await your response, as well as your action.
Strathcona Residents Association
Strathcona Business Improvement Association
Produce Row Business Committee
Strathcona Community Safety Association
Strathcona Community Policing Centre
Strathcona Business Improvement Association
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