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Hundreds of people living in encampments at Oppenheimer Park – seen here on May 9, 2020 – and two sites in Victoria have been moved into housing.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The Port of Vancouver plans to seek a court order to clear a tent camp set up over the weekend on a waterfront site owned by the port.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen tents were set up on the site, which is next to the city’s waterfront Crab Park and a few blocks from Oppenheimer Park, which up until recently was dotted with tents but is now cleared and surrounded by metal fencing.

Hundreds of people living in encampments at Oppenheimer and two sites in Victoria have been moved into housing following an April 24 order under B.C.'s Emergency Program Act that cited risks related to COVID-19 for people living outside. The order said people were to move from the three locations by noon on May 9, but the province extended the deadline for Victoria to May 20.

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Tents showed up at a parking lot near Crab Park over the weekend. Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, which runs the port, then contacted the group.

“We had informed this group on Saturday that they are trespassing on port property and need to vacate within 24 hours,” port spokeswoman Danielle Jang said Wednesday in an e-mail.

“When this deadline passed, we began taking steps towards legal action in response to their refusal to vacate. The legal action continues to be underway,” she added.

Chrissy Brett, a spokeswoman for people staying at the new site, on Wednesday said the group has asked the port to consider a land-use agreement that would allow campers to stay, maintaining at least three people who had been staying at Oppenheimer had not been housed and that hundreds more in the city remain homeless.

“This province’s leaders continue to say that parks aren’t the place for homeless people – well, where do homeless people belong?" said Ms. Brett, who has been involved with encampments in Nanaimo and Victoria.

Ms. Brett said the group would like to see governments build hundreds more affordable housing units and invest in facilities that would provide shelter, running water and electricity for people who are currently homeless.

The Vancouver Police Department said it is monitoring the situation.

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“Our main concern is the safety of everyone staying in the Crab Park area and the surrounding neighborhood,” Constable Tania Visintin said in an e-mail.

“We will investigate any criminal offence should something occur and would also initiate investigations on any threats which may be linked to the people in the park,” she added.

Provincial housing agency BC Housing offered accommodations to everyone in Oppenheimer, a spokeswoman for B.C.'s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction said in an e-mail, and a total of 261 people were moved from the park.

Advocates say there is a dire lack of affordable housing in the Downtown Eastside, in part as a result of the city closing the Regent and Balmoral hotels, two rundown single-room-occupancy hotels owned by Vancouver’s Sahota family that together accounted for about 300 housing units.

The city ordered the Balmoral closed in 2017 and the Regent in 2018 over health and safety concerns.

In July, 2018, the city announced its plans to expropriate both buildings. In November, 2019, city council voted to expropriate both buildings for $1 each, citing the significant costs required to renovate and unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a purchase.

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The owners in December filed a petition for judicial review in the Supreme Court of B.C., saying in court documents that the city’s approval of expropriation was “patently unreasonable and made in bad faith” and that the city breached its duty of procedural fairness.

A response has not been filed. A court date set for May was postponed because of coronavirus-related court delays, a city spokeswoman said, and a new date has not yet been set.

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.

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