SRA January 2021 Meeting Minutes

SRA – Meeting Minutes,

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 7 p.m.

Chair:  Dan Jackson

Zoom Moderator: Tom Cummins

Guests: 

Donnie Rosa, General Manager Vancouver Park Board

Sandra Singh, General Manager, Arts, Culture and Community Services, City of Vancouver

The Chair welcomed guests who will outline next steps for the encampment at Strathcona Park.

Donnie (GM of Parks Board since September, 2020) indicated she and Sandra are working closely together –  lots of work being done behind the scenes; fencing put in with the goal of moving campers into a small, designated area.  Focusing on cleaning up the park – staff are now going into the park; working on safety for campers;

Sandra – City and Park Board want to keep communication open as things progress; Working on two areas:  1) planning decampment and 2) making the current situation safe and clean while active discussions are occurring to create enough indoor spaces to bring everyone in camp indoors.

Operating Funding needed; application has been made to the province.  2400 Kingsway and Jericho in the works; two other sites being considered – renos needed – will take time. Will try to move people into spaces as they are ready – this will allow for moving them quickly –  incremental decampment – which is something that hasn’t been done before.

Goal to minimize the footprint of camp – when operational funding from Province confirmed –  can start to move people inside.  Limited indoor capacity right now due to covid –makes the gap larger.  The City’s homeless outreach team in regular contact with camp from the beginning;  have housed a # of people.  Activating quickly should result in decrease in the size of the camp and allow a return to community use.

Donnie:

As we begin to move people out of the park, the fence will be tightened to shrink the size ; working with remaining  campers outside of the fenced area asking them to join or remove encampment during the day – as per current by-law they are allowed to shelter overnight – must remove tent during the day.  This will take some time to clear and clean up.

Sandra:

As people are housed incrementally,  the fence will be moved –  the footprint shrunk over  time. Concern that more will come to the park as an avenue to finding housing so discussions with BC Housing to ensure more spaces open up to facilitate this – recognizing there is a strong need to get the park back to what it was intended for.  NB for communications around this and it is challenging.

In the interim as these issues are being worked out – there is an obligation to provide some basic human services – BC Housing will erect a warming tent to minimize the risk of the propane tank fires.  BC Fire and Rescue will assist with removal of hazardous materials that pose risk (propane tanks). Temporary showers and toilets for better sanitation will be installed.  Debris management has begun and will ramp up; there has been a productive partnership with some campers.

Donnie: Challenging to remove personal items – determine what is valuable and what is debris.  Lots of communication and working collaboratively.  Park Employees are there daily working on this and will continue.

Sandra:  Responding to the question of Strathcona Park becoming a magnet to people from outside Vancouver to take advantage of the services – doing the same work in other parts of Vancouver to avoid this – and it is not permanent housing being provided; in most cases it is temporary, i.e. 2400 Kingsway, a low barrier hotel.   700 out of 2000 experiencing homelessness in Vancouver remain unsheltered largely due to covid.  Many have waited for housing for a long time and are waiting in shelters – as they get housing; more temporary space will be available for Strathcona campers.  Still getting a full picture of who in the park needs what kind of services and how to best link them with what they need.  People who come to the Park now will be directed elsewhere for support.  Have recently have been allowed direct access to the campers by setting up a tent in the tennis court – people starting to come in and talk and we are getting a better sense of the community.

Question:  Why has it taken so long to provide these much needed services?  Can you get dumpsters?

Donnie: Dumpsters are brought in every day and removed at night.  Has taken time to get staff to feel safe going into the park and develop the trust needed.  Campers very suspicious of anyone in uniform. 

Sandra: The warming tent, toilet and showers should be loaded and available next week (Jan 11-15) Not an ideal situation – would have preferred indoors but were unable to find a more suitable solution nearby – the current location of the tent is  best we could do.

Question:  Are other green spaces in Strathcona being protected, i.e. McLean & Trillium – to ensure camps do not appear there?  The recent by-law allows for some space to be designated not suitable for overnight campers.  Will this be done for those parks? Are there areas in Strathcona that will be considered under this by-law?

Donnie:

The by-law allows us to put up the fencing, designating it as out of bounds for camping .

Park rangers are working with those who have not taken their tents down outside the designated area; determining their needs, and assisting with options; helping them understand that they cannot stay.

We have not addressed the portion of the by-law designates some parks off limits or inappropriate for camping – we know that some will try to stay and we will be watching for that.


Question 2:  What is your timeline – how long after the Province approves the operation funding?

Sandra: We are aware that # of shelter beds is not enough for the current # of unhoused people.  Once the vaccine is widely distributed – feeling is more beds will be available and can go back to being used for original purpose. (temporary shelter)


Question 3-Where were the RV’s relocated ?  And what is the city doing to address any impact that will have on the neighbourhood?

They are parked down the street and on Raymur.

Work is underway to develop more supportive housing in next few years – in terms of timeline – # of pieces have to be put in place – operators identified, plans drawn up – covid safety put in place – confirming of funding is the first thing that needs to happen.  Operator selection has begun which would normally not happen – once funding is approved, sites need to be prepared – 2400 Motel will be quicker as it is ready after covid plan and light supports but Jericho – high barrier and for people who are independent and require fewer supports – will all take time.  We have started renovations in advance of funds – again unusual – shelter renos typically take a few months – so as we learn about campers needs – a matter of a month – a few months.  Depending on how the outreach work goes.Re the RV’s – they are still on Raymur down the street.

Question:  What ultimately is the plan after decampment?

Donnie: Oppenheimer required a great deal of remediation – had to go down ½ of a foot.  Can’t determine until space is vacated and assessment done.  Goal to get green space back asap.  Oppenheimer had significant damage to field house – not the case at Strathcona.  Would like to see it back to the community this summer.

Question 1:  What do you plan to do about people who won’t leave the encampment?

Sandra:  Some will not want to leave for various reasons – looking at options such as private pods to make shelters more appealing through design.  Outreach helps us to understand needs and some will have to go into temporary.  For those who won’t leave – the power and authority from the Park Board comes into play – Goal to bring everyone inside with as much dignity and collegiality as possible – in the end some will need to be removed through an injunction. Efforts were mainly successful at Oppenheimer with minimal enforcement and that is our last resort and not something we want to do.

Question 2- Is there any discussion about having a permanent camp set up somewhere?

Sandra: City does not accept sleeping outdoors as part of the housing continuum – goal is to house people indoors.  Unlike the US, Canada’s homeless population should be manageable with enough Sr. Government support –  it can be done. Focus will continue to be bringing people inside, advocating for more contemporary supports – goal  – homeless is rare and one-time.  Modular housing to be activated this summer  – working with BC Housing on 300 more units of permanent modular housing in the next 2-3 years.  100’s of other units  in the works through community housing providers funded by BC Housing.  Federal RHI funding recently announced to help build more affordable housing across the province.

Question 3- Jericho is so far away, what about access to services for those folks?

Goal  to populate those who can live very independently – high barrier shelter for those who don’t want to remain in the DTES – will be supports i.e. meal provision, help with transportation etc.

Question:   Can we have some clarity around the timeline for complete decampment?

Sandra:  No actual timeline but when there is, we will share it with you.  Still gathering info on campers.  12 campers housed this fall from Strathcona Park  – will continue to outreach and house as we can.

#2- Can you provide some clarity around the time it will take to complete renovations?

Sandra: Renos could take as long as 8 months but goal is to expedite  –  probably 2-3 months for renovations;  hopefully sooner.  Buildings secured but need operational funding not yet secured; but  in one case we have gone ahead and taken the risk of starting before funding.  The $30 million is not operating – it is capital – for purchase of property, removations, land acquisition, etc.  Everything else (hiring operators, staffing, supports, etc.) coms from operational $$ not yet confirmed from  Province.  No timeline on that.

Question: Who is in charge of releasing the operational funding money at the Provincial Level?

Sandra: The ministry responsible for housing – David Eby – \ taking longer to get an answer than we hoped – original requests submitted in November.

Dan Jackson:

We are learning through this experience how government works at different levels and we appreciate you both coming here tonight to inform us – to date we have heard nothing from the Province – silence.  We know that the election, subsequent government shut down, the holidays, covid, etc. have affected everything, but repeated efforts to reach Selina Robinson (former Minister responsible for Housing) resulted in form letters pointing out “all the wonderful things we are doing”.  Reaching out to John Horgan, the Premier, and David Eby, the current Minister have not elicited a word of response – surprising as David Eby once lived in Strathcona and was one of the founders of PIVOT – so very frustrating to have this silence from him.  Yes, he recently became Minister but this issue has been there for a very long time.

Sandra:

Province is aware of the situation – regular meetings with them – BC Housing  actively engaged with decampment – have a high level of confidence that it is actively being moved forward.

Question:

 Besides those at BC Housing, can you identify the representatives that you are actually talking to in the ministry, and what level they’re at?

Sandra: We talk with the ADM…the Assistant Deputy Minister (of Housing) but things are in flux with recent election – intense period of time lots of shifts but we stay in close touch.  Again, we are actively engaged with them.

Question:  What are the active modular units you mentioned?

Sandra: 100 units under construction on Vernon Drive – ready July-  majority of other supportive housing, will be on east side of the city – tied to *performa building developments and what is needed for supportive housing and creation of affordable units; some are in Coal Harbour but for supportive; need to be able to support it and that means being closer to services (in DTES) otherwise more funds will be needed from Sr. Levels of Gov – social/supportive housing impossible to run without other orders of government subsidizing.  I can say that the 300 modular units being worked on now are in diverse locations – we negotiate with developers as they build and some have inclusionary housing units – this is one way we can get the supportive and affordable housing and we can then work with sr. gov’t for subsidies for supportive/social housing – this helps us diversify geographically.

Dan Jackson: Thanks to Donnie and Sandra and hope we can continue this kind of open relationship going forward.

Donnie: It’s important that we are able to have this sort of a safe space for us to share, because none of this is confidential, but i am confident that you’ll take it forward with the intent to be shared.

Richard Taplin gave an update on the Art Cars moved from Prior:

Jersey Barriers were installed at Raymur and Campbell this month – we asked them to extend further by 100 feet – they are looking into that.  Asked her to look at installing barriers on the s. side of Prior between Campbell & Raymur – they are looking at that now.  No guarantees but we will continue to push.

Dan Jackson: What about painting the Crosswalks?

Richard: repair work is being done on the rest of Prior to repair service trenches (BC Hydro).  Once paving is done, they will install bump curbs at Heatley/Dunlevy and then a painting contractor will be brought in – everything is weather permitting.  At that time, the crosswalk will be done.  Funding for both sides of the crosswalk painting just came in (10k).  Requested they re-establish speed trailer at Hawks & near fire station  – they are going to do that.  Then art trailers will be brought back to help control traffic along with jersey barriers to deter speeding. 

Re the Underpass Design:   Meeting with Maggie on 18th of March. Will bring up  the underpass design and details, and upgrading of Prior. We will play a role in that.

Maureen Teehan – Survey for Reimagining Vision for Strathcona Park

Putting the brakes on for now while waiting for developments of the decampment play out. For information or input, please contact me.

Dan Jackson: Donnie (Park Board GM)  offered to pair us with a designer from the park board to create the survey – so it is useful information for them. Suggest delaying survey for now.

Maureen will work with Donnie/Park Board when timing is right.

Trevor Campell:  Air Quality Working Group

 Have started developing an air quality survey, hoping everyone will fill out. Will  post on  SRA website, and email to SRA and other community members and groups mid-January; will try to have that open for about a month. Would like lots of input to determine locations for monitors, and other info would like to provide by end March to Port of Vancouver who is funding the project).  The Committee consists of reps from the SRA (headed by Trevor), Metro Vancouver, Vancouver Coastal Health & UBC (experts on air quality monitoring & policy)  This is very exciting – so please get involved, tell everyone you know and stay tuned.

Dan Jackson: Thank you all for a very unexpectedly productive meeting. I hope you are all doing well. We will have a newsletter out with updates in probably mid-January. Good night.