The fence cutting through half of Vancouver's Strathcona Park is the first step in clearing the park of its homeless encampment and returning the green space to the community, says the director of the Vancouver Parks Board.
Donnie Rosa, the general manager of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, says the plan to return the park to residents of Strathcona has been in the works since November last year. According to Rosa, the board has worked with BC Housing, community service groups, the Vancouver fire and police departments to come up with a plan to clear the park.
On Feb. 10 the first step of that plan was enacted with notices handed out to about a dozen people living on the west side of the park. The notices informed those living there they must find another place to sleep in seven days.
The plan to clear the park is underway
The next day a two-meter high fence was put up which clove the park down the middle and encompassed the entire west side of the park. A sign was erected on a section of the fence which laid out what was going to happen next.
A rare good news day in Strathcona. @dlr9 reclaims west 1/2 of park for everyone’s eventual use. Displaced campers apparently offered indoor spaces. Chrissy Brett pleased with extra security of new perimeter fencing. Win-win-win, it seems. But why did it take so long? #vanpoli pic.twitter.com/bRXDXFbgUQ— Jamie Maclaren QC (@A2JamieMac) February 11, 2021
“Effective Wednesday, February 10, 2021, temporary shelter structures will not be permitted in the west side of Strathcona Park as outlined in the attached map, to allow the Park Board to remediate and return this area to recreational use and programming for all park users,” the sign reads. “All existing tents, temporary shelters, and structures must be removed from the west side of Strathcona Park by 10 a.m. on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.”
The sign also provided contact information for the Orange Hall BC Housing Office and Carnegie Outreach.
Strathcona Park made headlines last month, being the place where Sandy Parisian was arrested by the VPD after being charged with manslaughter in connection with the homicide of 78-year-old Usha Singh.
While people living on the west side of the park can’t be there in a week, the east side of the park remains unfenced. On the east side of the park is a warming tent and showers intended for the encampment residents.
The Parks Board doesn’t plan to stop with just the west side of the park Rosa said in a recent interview. Rosa told Vancouver Is Awesome that by the end of April there will be new federal and provincial funding and enough shelter beds to accommodate the people living on the park’s grounds.
We're pleased to have received $4.9M from the Federal #ReachingHome program to support residents most impacted by COVID.— City of Vancouver (@CityofVancouver) February 10, 2021
We'll use this funding to install two new washroom trailers, extend hours at existing facilities & refurb a 60-bed shelter.
Read more https://t.co/KI59ss90KL pic.twitter.com/rKC8NWREWr
'A community with a huge heart'
Rosa went on to say that once the park is cleared, the city will likely complete an assessment and remediate the park’s soil if necessary, a process that could take up to three months. After the debris is cleared and the soil remediated, the community will again have access to the facilities on the west side of the park including two ball diamonds, a picnic shelter, tennis courts and a skate park.
So far, Rosa says there has been no pushback from both the encampment’s residents or the Strathcona neighbourhood as a whole.
"Strathcona is a community with a huge heart and they want to make sure that the folks at the encampment aren't just moved around but that they have housing,” Rosa said. “In the meantime, they also want access to their community greenspace so this is the way to get that compromise and to hopefully start to head down a path of healing for the community."