Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A large homeless camp has been setup in Strathcona Park in Vancouver, July 13, 2020.

Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Adrienne Tanner is a Vancouver journalist who writes about civic affairs

It is a sad day when the mayor of a major Canadian city concedes defeat by acknowledging it is not possible for a city to put a roof over the head of every resident.

That day came this week when Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart urged council and city staff to consider “temporarily” approving a homeless encampment on city land somewhere other than its current location in Strathcona Park.

Story continues below advertisement

He stressed the move would be temporary, an emergency measure until housing or shelter can be provided for approximately 300 homeless people living in the inner-city park. City council was debating Mr. Stewart’s proposal Friday at press deadline but regardless of the outcome, the result will be sure to rankle.

Tent city crisis pushes Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart to consider temporary site

If the tent city stays in Strathcona Park, community outrage will intensify; some residents are already threatening to withhold their property taxes, they are that angry. If it moves, it will certainly rankle its new neighbours.

As for temporary, I doubt it. Without huge help from the provincial and federal governments, it will likely be impossible for the city to cobble together enough housing for the approximately 2,000 people identified as homeless in the 2020 count. Temporary will become permanent before we know it.

The province has stepped up; buying and renting hotels in Victoria and Vancouver to house homeless people and funding long-term permanent supportive housing (there are 350 units in the works.) And it recently committed to build 98 temporary modular housing units, in addition to the 600 we already have, at a site near Strathcona Park.

The federal government, according to the city’s calculations, has contributed less than $200-million to affordable housing in Vancouver over the past few years, and only a sliver of that went to build housing rented at low welfare rates. Compare that with the billions spent on supports for working people and businesses to keep the economy intact during the pandemic. This is as it should be, but it does nothing for the poorest among us.

Initially, like former Mayor Gregor Robertson before him, Mr. Stewart balked at sanctioning a tent city, holding out instead for permanent housing solutions. But as complaints of violence, theft and street disorder poured in from Strathcona residents, many of whom supported Mr. Stewart’s bid for mayor, I’m sure he felt pressed to change his mind.

In addition to floating a sanctioned tent city site, Mr. Stewart proposes to open emergency housing in empty buildings. Heaven knows there are enough of those right now. But even converting these spaces into temporary housing will cost money that the city doesn’t have.

Story continues below advertisement

The federal government has pledged some cash for Canadian cities, all of which have lost revenue during the pandemic. But that money hasn’t arrived in city coffers yet, and when it does it will be needed for basic services.

Mr. Stewart and his fragile left-leaning council coalition have been under heavy fire all summer from rival Non-Partisan Association members for Vancouver’s deteriorating street scene. The reason for the increase in open drug use and tents popping up in many inner-city locations has far more to do with COVID-19 than civic governance.

Still, that doesn’t stop Mr. Stewart’s opponents from taking political shots over a homelessness crisis that grows more visible with each passing day. They seldom acknowledge that Vancouver’s homeless problems are emblematic of a national problem.

There are currently tent cities in Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Just as the depression of the 1930s drove people into shantytowns, our current pandemic-driven recession is pushing people into tents. A disproportionately high number are Indigenous – in the Strathcona Park tent city, about 45 per cent. And just like Vancouver, other Canadian cities are struggling to house people in temporary modular housing, empty hotels and makeshift shelters.

Mr. Stewart, a former New Democratic MP, was counting on cordial relations with his former Liberal colleagues in Ottawa to leverage help for Vancouver’s homelessness crisis. So far, he’s had little luck, possibly because the feds are happy to cede responsibility to B.C.'s provincial government, which they see is willing to help.

The federal government is utterly failing when it comes to support for Vancouver’s most vulnerable people, who let’s face it, are far less likely to vote. That sounds like a crass political calculation and I’d like to think it’s not true. But it’s hard to interpret Ottawa’s unwillingness to budge any other way.

Story continues below advertisement

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies