The GWAC meeting last night was dominated by the question in the headline. A crowd of more than fifty residents came to hear a panel of speakers that included Chad Cowles (Vancouver’s lead Park Ranger), Stacey Carter (Park Ranger homeless liaison officer), Bill Harding (Director Parks, CoV), John Gray (Asst Dir Animal Control, CoV), and Damian Murphy (Kettle, housing). Clr. Andrea Reimer was also at the meeting, listening.
From the brief introductory remarks from each of the speakers, we learned that, during the winter season, there are only two Park Rangers available at one time to look after 256 Parks in the city; that although there were about 900 calls to police about activities in Victoria Park over the last few years, only two major incidents (a stabbing and an assault) were reported in that time; that “strict enforcement” was not the prevailing theory for policing or animal control in the Park. The debate was then thrown open to the floor.
I didn’t keep an exact score, but I would say that about half the resident speakers had some level of concern about illegal or “dangerous” activities in the Park, and the other half were more comfortable or laissez-faire with what was happening. Several speakers, asking for a crackdown, spoke of the dangers they saw today reaching a boiling point and worried that a major incident would eventually occur; several others spoke of the good use made of the Park by families and dog owners, mentioning that “fear” was a perception rather than a reality. Const. Lemon noted that the “community” that hangs out in the Park — including the drunks — are as opposed to violence and distress as everyone else.
A number of residents noted that moving the drunks and dealers from Victoria Park will simply chase the problem to another area, another local Park, and will do nothing to solve the real “problem” for the neighbourhood. Many others noted the link between the drunks in the Park and the closeness to the liquor store and wondered what work could be done with the Liquor Distribution Branch to alleviate the situation.
A lot of speakers agreed with the comment that “the most dangerous park is an empty park” and called for more activities in the Park, a reduction of fees for small groups creating events, and better lighting. Bill Harding of Parks responded that budgets were tight, that fees were necessary for maintenance and clean up, and that lighting was a two-edged sword leading to complaints from neighbours and attracting a different type of “undesirable”.
Finally, another group of residents were clear that much of the perceived problems arose from the continuing gentrification of the neighbourhood and the pricing out of certain low-income/no-income residents into homelessness.
In the end, it was an enlivening and worthwhile discussion but nothing was decided, no future action was suggested, This is something we need to change at these GWAC meetings — we should strive to write letters or set up working groups to continue these excellent beginnings.