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Yaletown residents concerned by increased drug use, violence in public spaces

Yaletown residents concerned by increased drug use, violence in public spaces

Alissa Thibault

Alissa ThibaultMulti-skilled Journalist, CTV News Vancouver

@AlissaMThibault Contact

Published Sunday, May 24, 2020 6:37PM PDT


Yaletown residents say drug use, violence and vandalism have sharply increased now that nearby hotels are being used to house the homeless.

VANCOUVER — Yaletown residents are voicing concerns about safety in public spaces, especially parks in their neighbourhood.

Of particular concern is Emery Barnes Park. Locals say there have been issues with dangerous waste, human excrement and discarded needles in the park, issues they say have increased exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

CTV News Vancouver spoke with Hiroshi Yamamoto in the park Sunday morning. He was there with his daughter who’s almost two years old. He says he’s seen more needles in the grass and around the play areas.

“One time my daughter actually picked up a needle and started playing with it,” Yamamoto said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I was freaking out.”

Another resident, Jennifer Li Chiang, has lived in the area for three years. She says the park and surrounding areas have become increasingly dangerous.

“We’ve had at least four instances happen to our family in the last month where we’ve had to call the police,” she said. “Last Saturday, I was actually called a racial slur and then threatened to be pepper-sprayed by a gentleman. And I still see this gentleman walking up and down the street every day through my window, and I feel completely helpless with my baby, with my family.”

CTV News has been shown photos of notices posted inside residential buildings from strata management, saying that Oppenheimer Park residents have been moved into hotels on the Granville Street strip just a block away.

“I do know the Howard Johnson on Granville Street is one of them and the Holiday Inn has some former Oppenheimer residents tenanted there,” city Coun. Pete Fry said.

BC Housing made public plans to house Oppenheimer residents in empty hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, but wouldn’t say which buildings were being used.

As a result, residents say they have been kept in the dark about the changes to their neighbourhood.

“The first we heard about it was actually through Facebook,” Chiang said.

The city wasn’t told either.

“We didn’t know exactly what they were doing either, and I think there’s probably good reason for not telegraphing their intention before doing it,” Fry said. “Now that it’s done, I think it’s important to establish some transparency and hear what the community is saying and work to address some of those concerns.”

In a statement to CTV News, BC Housing said:

“We are engaging with all community stakeholders, including the Vancouver Police Department, to ensure residents and the public are safe and that buildings are operating appropriately. This includes regular patrolling by police, when necessary.”

Despite this, local businesses say they have had to bring in extra surveillance. Annette O’Shea is the executive director of the Yaletown Business Improvement Association. She says the association had to start late-night patrols about eight weeks ago.

“We’ve got some pretty bad stuff happening after 10 o’clock at night until 4 in the morning,” she said. “We have a lot of vandalism happening. We had an evening a few weeks ago where some man went along one of our streets and kicked in every single store window and he kicked it in for an entire block. Now that so many of the stores are darkened, what was a back-alley behaviour is becoming street-front behaviour.”

BC Housing also confirmed to CTV News that some hotel sites have supervised injection rooms for people in the building, though the provincial agency would not confirm which sites.

Fry said he welcomes that move.

“Supervised injection services actually do mitigate a lot of otherwise pretty serious problems, including overdoses and consumption in our parks and alleys and that kind of thing,” he said.

Moving forward, both Fry and Yaletown residents say there needs to be more consultation and solutions made at higher levels of government. Chiang says neighbourhood residents don’t feel like they’re being heard. 

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