B.C. working to house people camping in Vancouver park as deadline to leave looms

·3 min read

VANCOUVER — British Columbia's housing minister says campers in Vancouver's Strathcona Park can either choose to accept the housing they are offered or leave the park by Friday's deadline.

David Eby said in an interview Thursday there will be "difficult" conversations with campers, particularly with those who do not want to move into more traditional housing, but moving from camp to camp is not a long-term solution.

"You can come inside to a dignified space, with privacy and good supports and transition to permanent housing or you can leave the park but you can't maintain this encampment," said Eby, in a message to the campers.

Forcing people living outside to move to another park is not a desirable outcome, Eby added, which is why the province is offering a "far more dignified and humane alternative."

"My hope is that these folks are significantly safer inside," he said.

Campers at the park have until Friday at 10 a.m. to tear down their tents, with Vancouver's park board handling enforcement of the order to remove any temporary structures.

More than 200 people have been moved to indoor housing from the park, and Eby said he hopes to house the remaining campers by the end of the week.

Police and neighbours have complained about crime connected to the park, while fire officials have voiced concerns about dangerous conditions.

The campers moved into Strathcona Park after the Vancouver Port Authority won a court injunction requiring them to leave nearby Crab Park.

They previously camped at Oppenheimer Park, which was shut down by the B.C. government after nearly two years over fears of COVID-19 spreading.

Chrissy Brett, a spokeswoman for the camp, said she's been assured that campers will have the weekend to slowly gather their gear instead of being forced to leave by the Friday deadline.

Campers could be seen Thursday packing their belongings into vehicles, with BC Housing workers helping some of those wanting to access the housing options.

Garbage trucks and city engineering staff worked on the borders of the encampment disposing of trash and unwanted belongings.

Brett said she rejects claims raised by others that she is against housing.

"I'm against forcing people to take indoor space that is not permanent housing, that does not work for them, or permanent housing with no support," she said Thursday.

Some of those living in the park say the housing solutions offered by the province represent a "mixed bag."

Haven Couture was at the campsite to visit her sons on Thursday.

She had also been camping in Strathcona Park but moved to the former Holiday Inn after the government bought it and converted the building into housing for homeless.

However, she said the staff there won't allow her sons to visit.

"It's in our DNA to be together," she said, referencing her Indigenous background. "So when we're alone in a square box, watching a square TV, we feel that gaping hole that was taken away from us and our culture."

She's now looking for a home that will allow her family to visit.

Brett did not rule out further encampments, and said she wants the province to give the group a mix of modular housing that also has space outdoors for tents until permanent housing is available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021.

The Canadian Press