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Homelessness not an issue for Vancouver parks: NPA

Given that there are 40,000 reported instances of people turned away from homeless shelters in Metro Vancouver over the past year, it's no surprise that many of Vancouver's street homeless can be found sleeping in city parks. There are homeless encampments throughout Stanley Park, and park staff are regularly called on to pull needles from park grounds.

Even so, NPA park board chair and city council hopeful Korina Houghton ruled out a motion forwarded by COPE park board commissioner and Vancouver-Burrard provincial hopeful Spencer Herbert to ask BC Housing open vacant residential hotel room to people now camping in parks.

"It's interesting that she feels the park board can vote to support housing for dogs, when we can't vote to support housing for humans," said Herbert, referring to Houghton's support of a $31 request in the Capital Plan for a dog daycare. "Community centres, pools, rinks, parks – those are our key areas of responsibility, for sure. But that includes what happens in those places. And in this case, we have people living in our parks."

Houghton said she turned down the motion because homelessness, from her perspective, is a city council matter.

"It doesn't have anything to do with the content or the validity of [Herbert's] motion," she said. "I turned it down on the basis that it really doesn't have anything to do with our park-board mandate... housing for the homeless is a city council matter."

Houghton is confident in the City's Homeless Action Plan, and, if elected to council, she plans on making it a priority.

"I think it's extremely important and paramount that we have a good relationship with the provincial government and the federal government to obtain funding and support through those avenues as well," she said. "I believe that we're looking at long-term solutions, not short-term solutions."

Even so, with winter weather approaching, the need for more temporary shelter is becoming increasingly urgent. "If we don't get moving now, we're just condemning people to live on the streets for another year, another two years," said Herbert. "I'm not calling for [the park board] to build housing, but the sad reality is we are one of the number-one providers of housing for the homeless."

Jackie Wong writes for The Westender.

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