The Vancouver park board has agreed privately to allow its staff to proceed with injunctions to clear Strathcona Park, but it will likely be months before the city’s most visible homeless camp will be cleared.
In an in-camera meeting last month, park board commissioners agreed to injunction only if there was a guarantee that people had housing to move to. The park board has resolutely refused to seek an injunction to clear out a sprawling tent city in the Strathcona neighbourhood. The park is now home to about 500 tents with an estimated 200 homeless people living there.
Camil Dumont, the recently elected chair of the board, said the vote is a step forward.
“Because of our board’s stance, we’ve seen progress. Before, it was ‘Kick them out’ or ‘Let them stay.’ Now, it’s ‘How do we get them housing.’”
However, after months of increasing violence and squalid conditions at the park, a solution remains far off. The city has designated two available sites for temporary housing and two more in the wings, but none of them are ready to be lived in yet because of upgrades and renovations that have to be done first.
That means the plan by the board and the city’s community-services department to encourage, rather than force, everyone out of the park is stalled.
Both independent Rebecca Bligh and Green Party Pete Fry say things could be much further along if the province’s money for housing hadn’t been delayed by the provincial election.
“We’re still waiting for BC Housing to come up with their funding commitments,” Ms. Bligh said. “We lost about six weeks with the provincial election at a pretty critical point.”
But Mayor Kennedy Stewart said that’s a misunderstanding of all the levers at play in the complicated effort to provide more housing, which relies on the city providing buildings, the federal government joining in with some of its Rapid Housing initiative money, and the province providing operating funds.
“I’ve got nothing but praise for the feds and the province on this,” said Mr. Stewart, who has been critical of the province on more than one occasion for short-changing the city on needed COVID-relief money or other help. “I know it’s taking too long but that’s the time we’re in. Everyone is working overtime in the middle of a pandemic to get this landed.”
He said it wasn’t helpful for councillors to be pointing fingers and blaming.
A statement from the B.C. housing ministry, now headed by David Eby, said the province is working “to bring residents in the Strathcona encampment inside urgently.”
In the meantime, the city’s community services manager, Sandra Singh, said the city and BC Housing are working together to try to provide some indoor warming spaces and showers.
Once the approximately 300 new spaces are available that the city is trying to bring on, with provincial and federal help, people will be asked to say what kind of housing they’re willing to move to. And that will extend to all homeless people, not just in the park, Ms. Singh said.
Not everyone from the park or the street will automatically go to the new housing, which will include a hostel near Jericho Beach on Vancouver’s west side or the city’s 2400 Motel on Kingsway.
“Our goal will be to work with campers. Our hope is that we will be able to decamp voluntarily,” Ms. Singh said.
Ms. Singh said priority for the Jericho hostel will go to people from the area and who can live independently, since it’s far from any services. Some people who have housing already may move to one of the new spaces and someone from the park will get their old unit.
An injunction will be used to clear the park at the end of that only if there is no other option.
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