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A man pulls a wood pallet to his tent at a homeless encampment at Strathcona Park, in Vancouver, on Dec. 22, 2020.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

B.C.’s new Housing Minister is promising that homeless people who have been camping for months in Vancouver’s Strathcona Park will get a place to live and be moved out by the end of April.

David Eby said he gave orders to BC Housing as soon as he took office in November to stop waiting for Vancouver’s local government, which controls parks and policing, and move ahead with plans.

“We’re incredibly serious about an end date,” Mr. Eby said.

Several sites in Vancouver are being renovated now to provide people with places to live that aren’t as permanent or spacious as social-housing apartments but are a distinct step up from shelters, he said.

Similar to what has been put in place at a Victoria arena, people will get private cubicles with a bed and a secure drawer for belongings, he said. Those spaces are being created in the two sites the city has already offered – a motel on Kingsway and a hostel near Jericho Beach – and at other sites BC Housing is either renovating already or negotiating to lease.

“They will not be traditional cold, wet-weather-type shelters,” he said.

Mr. Eby, a lawyer and former poverty-rights advocate, said that this kind of privacy will ensure that people are in healthy spaces during the pandemic.

As well, he says, it guarantees that the courts won’t have to rule, as they have in the past, that a mat on the floor in a shelter doesn’t count as true housing when deciding if people have the right to camp in parks.

Mr. Eby said the job at Strathcona Park now looks like it will be simpler because all the levels of government involved are aligned on the need to clear the park gradually.

The park board, dominated by the Green Party and COPE, has been hesitant for the past 2½ years to have people removed from a homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park and now one at Strathcona Park unless there was a guarantee of housing.

That has led to waves of complaints and concern from residents near Strathcona Park about people living through the winter there and about the levels of crime and disorder the park camp is generating.

Recently, the board agreed in a closed meeting that it would ask for an injunction to clear the camp if housing were provided. As well, it has revised its bylaws to make it possible to enforce a rule that any tents in parks have to come down during the day.

The park board began putting fencing around the Strathcona camp this month.

As well, the city notified area residents this week that a warming tent, showers and a washroom were going to be installed. There are about 400 tents at the park, but past city surveys have indicated that many are empty and that there are only about 200 people who are actually homeless there.

The start of construction on a warming tent, with a plywood platform, was in evidence Friday, as was a city bulldozer clearing some of the debris that has accumulated.

That announcement about the new services, which sparked concern that the homeless camp was going to stay indefinitely, prompted Mr. Eby to do interviews Friday to make it clear the province has a timeline for the park camp to end.

The shelters and fencing “reasonably gave some people the impression we were entrenching the encampment,” he said, and he wanted to dispel that idea.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said that he welcomed the new minister’s strong and committed statement about the province’s plans, after a bit of a gap as the province went through an election and changed ministers.

He said the province’s actions will help Vancouver as it tries to tackle homelessness generally with a new $30-million pot of money from the city and plans for housing projects financed with federal cash.

Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry, who lives near the park and has been working with a small group of other councillors to press for solutions, said it’s a bit disappointing to hear that the timeline for ending the encampment is still months away.

“But I’m happy there is a timeline. And now there’s a feel of alignment of the city, the park and the province.”

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