26 April 2020

COVID-19: Homeless to be housed in empty hotels

The B.C. government says it will temporarily move people sleeping in Oppenheimer and Topaz parks and on Pandora Avenue into hotels and shelters.


by Nick Eagland,  April 25, 2020 Vancouver Sun/The Province

The B.C. government is temporarily moving hundreds of people sleeping in Vancouver and Victoria tent encampments into hotels and shelters to protect them from the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The move announced on Saturday will provide temporary housing for people living in Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park, and in Topaz Park and on Pandora Avenue in Victoria. Service agencies that work with people dealing with homelessness, addiction and mental illness will run the housing and keep the sites safe and secure.

Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s public safety minister and Solicitor General, has issued an order under the provincial state of emergency requiring people to leave the encampments by May 9. The moving starts Saturday.

The plan makes use of hotels now sitting empty because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, where the government is renting rooms for people who don’t have homes and need to self-isolate. Officials will work to keep homeless families together.

“These encampments present an elevated risk of an outbreak of COVID-19 in these communities,” said Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to follow the provincial health officer’s directions on physical distancing, on important hygiene practices and quarantining for those who may be feeling any symptoms of sickness. Adding to our concerns, health care workers have withdrawn services from the encampments for safety reasons.

“We’re taking necessary steps to support people’s transition from unsafe, dense encampments into temporary safer accommodations with space to self-isolate, access to hygiene facilities, and important wraparound health care and social services.”

Simpson said he acknowledged the plan would be welcome news for many people sleeping in the parks but cause anxiety and hesitation for others.

He stressed their health and safety was the government’s priority and said the transition would be done with care and compassion.

B.C. Housing has worked with hotel associations, private owners and municipalities to find suitable hotels and community centres, which will be rented on a temporary basis. Hotel owners have signed a lease agreement and B.C. Housing has promised to properly clean the buildings before returning them to the owners.

More hotel sites are expected to become available in “the days and weeks to come.”

In Victoria, where about 360 people are sleeping on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz park, B.C. Housing is moving people into 324 spaces at five hotels and is negotiating leases for more.

In Vancouver, where about 300 people are sleeping in Oppenheimer Park, the agency is moving people into 686 spaces at eight hotels, as well as two emergency response centres at the Coal Harbour and Roundhouse community centres.

Non-profits with experience working with “vulnerable” populations will oversee the day-to-day operation of the temporary housing, including PHS, Lookout, Community Builders and four others.
The government said the sites will be operated like supportive housing with staff on-site 24/7 to monitor people coming and going, and provide daily meals and cleaning services. There will be visitor policies and tenants need to follow self-isolation protocols.

Before moving, people from the parks will be assessed by outreach workers to match them with the best housing. Those workers and case management workers will continue to support the new tenants and they will receive addiction, mental health and primary care services, including overdose prevention services.

Judy Darcy, minister of mental health and addictions, said she recognized the stigma and judgment faced by homeless people.

“We’re here today to say we see you, we hear you and we’re taking action to support you,” she said.
“Today’s announcement is a profound commitment that we will do everything we possibly can to keep you safe in the face of two public health emergencies. But today’s announcement is also about greater hope for the future.”

Some spaces will be designated for women only, including a floor of a hotel in Vancouver and a facility in Victoria. A hotel in Vancouver has been sourced for people who test positive for COVID-19.

The province said it also working on long-term plans to secure permanent housing with supports for the people moving out of the encampments. B.C. Housing is looking at hotel acquisitions and temporary modular and permanent supportive housing.

Chrissy Brett, Oppenheimer Park tent city liaison, said people sleeping at the park were concerned after hearing details of the plan on Friday.

She said the province should be prioritizing housing for homeless people who have the most serious health risks, rather than those sleeping in the highly-visible encampments.

“We have homeless people in northern B.C., Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, Nelson, Terrace, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Vanderhoof, who need just as much support, if not more, because there aren’t the supports and organizations that you find in the larger cities that have a lot of homeless people,” Brett said.

Brett said she believes the province is focusing on people who are “the most problematic to them” instead of sick and elderly people dying in alleyways and on sidewalks.

“I believe that the province has just come up with a way to again just try and erase the eyesore and a constant reminder that people have to drive by every day,” she said.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart praised the plan which he said will help reduce illicit-drug overdoses and allow for physical distancing during the province’s two public health emergencies.

“All who live in our great city deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. No one wants to live on the streets. No one wants to die of a drug overdose. But this is what is happening to too many of our neighbours,” Steward said in a news release.

“Today, thanks to the leadership of Minister Shane Simpson and the rest of his cross-ministry team in charge of the dual health emergencies in the Downtown Eastside, we are beginning to move in the right direction.”

Vancouver park commissioner Stuart Mackinnon said he was optimistic.

“What I think we’re going to see now is the transition of this park back to a community space, which is needed more than ever now,” Mackinnon said.

“People, especially in that high-density area, need a space to recreate, to get outside and have free space for themselves and we’re going to see that space returned to that community.”

original article here.

13 April 2020

OPINION: COVID-19 brings crisis but also opportunity

Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon calls for real change for the greater good 


Vancouver Is Awesome, 13 April 2020

The COVID-19 virus crisis is unparalleled in recent times. Arguably, not since the 1919 Spanish Influenza outbreak, have we seen a global epidemic of this magnitude. Governments and NGOs around the world, whether local, national, or international, have brought in drastic measures to stop the spread of the virus. Here in Canada, the federal government is spending unprecedented amounts of money to ensure that both the population and the economy can withstand the outbreak.

The changes in habits and routines has been rapid. The response nimble and ever changing. It is in times of great turmoil when great change is possible. While some say that all resources must be directed to the crisis at hand, I believe that some resources must also be spent planning for the aftermath. Surely a return to ‘normal’ can never be possible or even desired.

The federal and provincial governments are spending extraordinary amounts on keeping the economy stable and protecting workers affected by shutdowns, downturns, and lay-offs. With the government intervening so drastically in the economy, now is the time for the monumental shift necessary for the survival of our planet to be implemented.

Rather than more subsidies for the oil and gas sector, money should be invested in energy alternatives. Studies have shown Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia’s economies can not only survive a shift away from fossil fuels, but actually thrive. Rather than sending workers into man-camps to continue building a pipeline not wanted or needed, those same workers could be transitioned to planting trees, cleaning up the toxic dumps of failed mines and mills, and trained for the new green economy.

Money could be spent building housing on federal, provincial, and locally owned lands for the tens of thousands of homeless and under-housed. A safe supply of drugs, now planned for the pandemic, should become a permanent healthcare solution to addiction. Poverty alleviation would become the hallmark of a new progressive society.

This is a time of crisis but also a time of opportunity. For the first time in living memory for some, blue skies can be seen over heavily industrialised cities throughout the world. Let us use this opportunity to change the way we manufacture. Let us use this as an opportunity to move away from carbon-based economies.

Our food systems and supply-chain have proven to be robust, but at what cost? As the pandemic slowly fades, as it will, let us invest in sustainable agricultural practices and build local food security. A global economy means strawberries in January and a dozen roses for less than twenty dollars, but it also means the exploitation of workers and an unsustainable agricultural system.

The ways of the past are no longer acceptable. Governments, whether local, provincial, or national must heed the call for real systemic change. What has started in a crisis can end in a meaningful transformation. It will take strong leadership and a real desire to build a better world. Let us not waste this opportunity.

Let us take this opportunity to build a new society based on hope and love. As Bruce Cockburn so beautifully wrote, ‘the trouble with normal is it always gets worse’. A return to the ways that put us here is not an option. This is a chance to make real changes that will allow our society to grow and become a fairer and more equitable place for everyone.

We need to focus on the problem at hand, but we must not lose sight of what comes next.

- Stuart Mackinnon

Stuart Mackinnon is an elected Vancouver Park Board Commissioner representing the Green party.

original post here

08 April 2020

City repurposes eastbound lanes of Beach Ave for people walking and cycling

Starting Thursday, April 9, we are temporarily closing the eastbound lanes of Beach Avenue to vehicles.

View a map of the closures

Closure to help local residents

We heard concerns about the inability for residents to practice physical distancing while exercising or getting fresh air, particularly in denser parts of the city like the West End. As a result, we are temporarily closing eastbound lanes of Beach Avenue to vehicles between Hornby Street and Stanley Park, so local residents can use the lanes for walking and biking while keeping two metres apart.

The goal of this partial closure is not to encourage large gatherings, but to give nearby residents more room to move while also being able to practice physical distancing. This is a responsive measure and not intended as an invitation to gather.

Using local streets in your own neighbourhood

The Stanley Park Seawall and English Bay areas are already very crowded. Residents are encouraged to get exercise and fresh air in their own neighbourhoods while maintaining two-metre spacing from others. Many of Vancouver’s local streets are excellent for walking, running, and biking.

What drivers can expect

While this temporary closure is in effect:
  • All eastbound traffic, including the 23 bus, will be diverted to Davie Street 
  • Motorists can still access their residences from the westbound lane 
  • Drivers travelling westward who need to access Beach Avenue west of Denman Street will be diverted briefly onto Denman and then onto Morton Avenue before rejoining Beach Avenue 
  • Residential parking will be maintained on the north side of Beach Ave where possible 

Staff will monitor the situation and adjust if needed.
More information can be found on vancouver.ca/covid19

07 April 2020

Park Board to close Stanley Park to vehicles

Measure necessary to reduce visitation and enable physical distancing

The Vancouver Park Board will be closing Stanley Park to all vehicles starting Wednesday, April 8 in an effort to reduce the number of people in the park and to enable physical distancing. It is the latest in a series of measures the Park Board has taken in recent weeks to reduce the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic to the public.

Causeway will remain open

The closure will be carried out Wednesday morning and will remain in place indefinitely. It will be implemented via physical barriers and signage at key access points to the park, supported by Park Rangers and the VPD. Digital traffic signs on Georgia St, English Bay, and the Stanley Park Causeway will alert motorists to the closure. The Causeway will remain open.

Reducing the number of visitors to the park

Despite the closure of all parking lots in Stanley Park more than a week ago, visitors have still been observed travelling by car to the park, particularly on sunny days, and parking illegally on the road.
Closing Stanley Park’s roads will reduce the daily number of people in the park and open up space for cyclists and pedestrians from the neighbourhood.

Once the closure is implemented, the Park Board will be encouraging cyclists to keep a safe physical distance from pedestrians by moving off the seawall and using the adjacent Stanley Park Drive, which will be free of traffic.

Access available to emergency services, #19 bus, and staff

Emergency services, the #19 bus, and Park Board and City service vehicles will still be able to access the park.

There will also be limited access for key tenants and leaseholders via checkpoints at the Georgia St roundabout, facilitated by Rangers and Park Board staff.

Access will be provided to staff of the Rowing Club, Yacht Club, HMCS Discovery, Prospect Point, and Stanley Park Ecological Society.

Protect yourself and others

Vancouver is among cities with the densest neighbourhood populations in Canada, and residents rely on park spaces for fresh air, much like a backyard. It is paramount that everyone shares the spaces and uses them safely.

  • Always maintain a safe physical distance of a least two metres
  • Use parks and beaches for a short break to exercise, not to socialize
  • Visit during less busy times (mornings, late evenings, or when it’s cloudy or damp outside)
  • Access neighbourhood or community parks and do not drive to destination parks and beaches
  • Keep dogs on leash when walking, unless using an official off-leash park
  • Refrain from touching shared surfaces and be vigilant about hand-washing
  • Consider wearing a cloth (non-medical) face mask when exercising vigorously or accessing public spaces
  • Stay home if you’re sick, especially if feeling cold or flu-like symptoms

05 April 2020

Park Board launches Champions program to support physical distancing in parks, on beaches

Public safety is the highest priority of the Park Board 
and the public is being urged to adhere to the directives of staying 2 metres apart.
Camil Dumont, Chair of the Vancouver Park Board

April 4 2020 
 The Vancouver Park Board is introducing a new public awareness campaign about the importance of physical distancing in Vancouver’s busiest beach, seawall, and park locations.

Program starts Saturday, April 4

The Park Board Champions program begins Saturday, April 4 with approximately 25 recreation staff dressed in highly visible bright green vests safely engaging with members of the public.
Their aim is to make residents aware of the physical distancing directives and to provide education about public etiquette and the courteous use of shared outdoor spaces.

1,400+ warnings given to park and beach users

The Champions’ work complements the vital, ongoing role Park Rangers play in physical distancing enforcement during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
To date, Park Rangers have issued more than 1,400 warnings to park and beach users not following the Provincial Health Officer’s directive to keep at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from others who are not from the same household.
In addition to the work being done by the Rangers, the Champions can be deployed in larger numbers to the busiest locations in the city to spread awareness of safe behaviour.

Protect yourself and others

Vancouver is among cities with the densest neighbourhood populations in Canada, and residents rely on park spaces for fresh air, much like a backyard. But it is paramount that everyone shares the spaces and uses them safely.
  • Always maintain a safe physical distance of a least 2 metres (6 feet). 
  • Use parks and beaches for a short break to exercise, not to socialize.
  • Visit during less busy times (mornings, late evenings, or when it’s cloudy or damp outside).
  • Access neighbourhood or community parks and do not drive to destination parks or beaches.
  • Keep dogs on leash when walking, unless using an official, open off-leash park.
  • Don't touch shared surfaces and be vigilant about hand-washing.
  • Stay home if you’re sick, especially if feeling cold or flu-like symptoms.
For more information about the Park Board’s response to the pandemic, visit vancouver.ca/covid19

Vancouver Park Board Chair Camil Dumont

“Vancouver’s beaches and parks remain open, though their parking lots have been closed to prevent large groups of people from gathering,” said Camil Dumont, Chair of the Vancouver Park Board.
“We recognize the important role outdoor spaces play in people’s overall health and wellness, particularly mental health. However, public safety is the highest priority of the Park Board and the public is being urged to adhere to the directives of staying 2 metres apart.”