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Tents are seen at a homeless camp on a city-owned lot in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver on Nov. 17, 2016. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Tents are seen at a homeless camp on a city-owned lot in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver on Nov. 17, 2016. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Judge rules Vancouver can dismantle homeless camp Add to ...

A judge has granted the City of Vancouver an injunction to dismantle a homeless camp, allowing police to arrest occupants who do not leave or who try to obstruct the removal of shelters.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Loryl Russell said Thursday that feces and used needles are littered around the site while open flames and propane tanks in tents create severe risks for residents and first responders.

Campers have defied three orders from the fire department to stop using equipment that could cause explosions, creating safety concerns that may also affect neighbours in the Downtown Eastside, Russell said in granting an injunction involving a city-owned lot.

“There have been drug overdoses and the assault of a police officer,” she said, adding residents were using extension cords to draw electricity from an adjacent building until the fire department ordered the power cut.

“There is no doubt that the city’s fire bylaws have been and continue to be violated,” Russell said of the camp that sprang up in July as part of a protest organized by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users over the lack of low-income housing.

However, Russell said that while the city has an obligation to regulate its lands where people are trespassing, it must also use its best efforts to secure affordable housing or shelters.

“I also understand that there’s a substantial difference between shelter and housing. It is difficult for those who have a degree of prosperity and stability to imagine a life of constant movement.”

People in need of housing are in “constant search for basic necessities including a toilet, a shower, a meal or a warm place to sit out of the rain,” she said, adding some are also dealing with mental illness, HIV and drug addiction.

Russell has ordered the city to provide three portable toilets and a garbage bin for the next seven days for about 13 people who remain at the site where nearly 100 tents had once been pitched.

She said campers must provide their names to the city as it tries to house them.

DJ Larkin, a lawyer for the Pivot Legal Society, which represents camp residents, said the city created unsafe conditions by not providing portable toilets or trash bins for people who have nowhere else to live.

“We’re in the middle of a housing crisis,” Larkin said outside court.

“The lack of funding for social housing and affordable housing over the last two decades at a federal and provincial level is astonishing.”

Larkin said she did not know yet if the society will appeal the decision, but noted a judge in Victoria had allowed a homeless camp to remain in place after a request for an injunction.

However, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson did grant a second request, ordering the shutdown of a so-called tent city on the lawn of Victoria’s courthouse, where he said about 100 people had been living under deteriorating conditions.

“The fault here lays at the feet of the city,” Larkin said of the Vancouver camp. “The city has shown an uncaring attitude towards hundreds of people who are living unsheltered in our streets this winter.”

The city said after the ruling that housing outreach staff will help move residents.

“The city hopes to count on the co-operation of camp residents to ensure that this transition period results in their safe and orderly deportment in advance of the court’s deadline,” it said in a statement.

Social housing slated to be built on the current camp site will provide about 250 units, though construction is not set to begin for four or five years, the city has said.

Maria Wallstam of the Carnegie Community Action Project, which has been advocating for residents, said the camp has meant homeless people are safe together rather than alone in back allies where they could overdose and die.

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