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A resident is seen next to a tent in Vancouver on June 15, 2020.JENNIFER GAUTHIER/Reuters

Mayor Kennedy Stewart is proposing Vancouver spend $30-million on emergency measures to house its growing numbers of homeless people, based on an analysis done in a staff report.

City staff had been asked two weeks ago to examine a number of possible solutions, ranging from managed camps on city land to buying hotels to allowing tiny-house villages. The staff report recommended acquiring hotels, apartments or residential hotels through leases or purchases. The report did not address the option of a sanctioned tent city.

The mayor’s response was supported by at least one councillor, but others say it’s a no-win strategy to continue on with a pattern of trying to clear camps of homeless people in parks by spending tens of millions of dollars on buying housing, only to repeat the same crisis and solution within months.

“At what point do we run out of money?” independent Councillor Rebecca Bligh said. “We are throwing an unsustainable amount of money at hotels. If we have another camp after this one, do we have another $100-million to buy hotels? We need to disrupt the process.”

Rising numbers of homeless people, along with increasingly visible and large camps, in the region have been a phenomenon for 20 years. The issue has become a flashpoint in the provincial election because of one camp in particular, in Strathcona Park near Vancouver’s Chinatown and train station, where about 400 tents have been set up, accompanied by many recreational vehicles, trucks and cars at the edge of the park that people are living in.

The report noted that, although there are 380 tents at the park, only 200 people are actually homeless. However, the report estimated about 750 people throughout the city are homeless and sleeping outside.

Strathcona has provoked resident backlash, although many of those objecting to the camp are trying to keep the issue focused on providing housing for those who need it as opposed to just chasing them out.

Ms. Bligh said the whole issue is being muddied by the fact that, while the camps in Vancouver have become last-ditch solutions for some homeless people, they are protest movements for others.

“The people needing housing are being buried by the agenda of the protest.”

NPA Councillor Lisa Dominato said she also was concerned that the recommendations were largely focused on acquiring units, whose price was estimated at $400,000 to $750,000 per door. She said that the city shouldn’t be paying for everything – something the staff report also says.

“I don’t think we can go it alone.”

BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson has made the park and the reports of crime and disorder a feature of many of his speeches, saying the situation is unacceptable.

Mr. Stewart held a special council meeting with proposed solutions two weeks ago, but other councillors added other suggestions that were sent off to staff for study.

The staff report assessing the costs and benefits will be the subject of another special council Thursday, where multiple motions and amendments are expected as the four-party, no-majority council grapples with potential solutions.

Staff rated initiatives such as acquiring hotels and apartments for permanent housing as the kind of action that would likely get the most uptake from homeless people themselves – many surveyed outside the park said they didn’t want to be in camps. It would also take the least time and get the highest amount of support from other governments and agencies.

The report noted that, when the last large camp, at Oppenheimer Park, was cleared last year and people were moved to housing that the province’s housing agency had found for them in existing or newly acquired buildings, 131 people accepted that housing and 106 people are still in it. (Seven died in the meantime, and 18 left.)

The report concluded that a disaster-relief shelter, where people could stay temporarily in a camp or building, while a co-ordinated team spoke to them and offered housing, would still lead to a final confrontation to clear people who refused to leave.

“Even with the activation of additional options being considered in this memo, the likelihood of decamping Strathcona Park without enforcement … is limited.”

OneCity Councillor Christine Boyle said she is supporting the mayor’s recommendations because she believes that Vancouver’s initiative will encourage other levels of government to pitch in.

But she would still like to see an immediate plan for providing housing while the city goes through the process of buying or leasing sites, perhaps at city-owned sites or the hostel at Jericho Beach.

“We need some stopgap or transitional measure.”