Skip to main content

John Granger and Linda Gordon live out of their in tent along with others who are homeless at Oppenheimer Park.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The City of Vancouver is taking legal action to dismantle a tent city in the Downtown Eastside, citing health concerns and worsening weather.

The encampment in Oppenheimer Park sprang up in July, when dozens of people set up tents to highlight a lack of affordable housing in the city and to press city and provincial governments to address what the protesters called a housing crisis.

Since then, the encampment has remained, despite health and safety concerns and complaints that the park was no longer available for public use or enjoyment.

On Thursday, however, the city moved to end the encampment, saying it had applied for an injunction to begin dismantling the camp. That application is expected to be heard Monday in the Supreme Court of B.C.

"People are moving into the site who aren't homeless and are causing more troubles," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Thursday at a press conference at City Hall. "A lot of issues are concentrated from the Downtown Eastside into Oppenheimer Park."

The worsening conditions are a concern to safety officials, he added.

"Police and fire [departments], they've come forward saying it's time for this to end," he said.

In an affidavit filed in support of the application, Joe Foster, assistant chief with the City of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, said he had been called to the park on multiple occasions, sometimes several times a day, and was worried about fire hazards.

"In particular we are concerned about the presence of open flames, smoking inside tents or temporary structures, [and] the volume of combustible materials," Mr. Foster said in his affidavit. He also said he had seen many fights take place and buckets of urine and feces inside of tents "for what appeared to me to be extended periods of time."

In a separate affidavit, Vancouver Police Inspector Howard Chow said an increasing number of incidents at the camp have required police intervention, including assault, theft and possession of weapons.

In the weeks since the tent city took shape, city and B.C. Housing staff have arranged housing for 40 campers at the site. About 50 people are on a waiting list for housing while another 50 or more may be homeless at Oppenheimer Park, the city said Thursday in an update.

The tent city protest comes in the run-up to to the November civic election, in which Mr. Robertson will be seeking a third term. First elected in 2008, Mr. Robertson campaigned on a promise to end street homelessness by 2015 but recent surveys have found the number of homeless people has increased.

The 2014 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count found the number of people identified as homeless in Vancouver increased by 14 per cent – from 1,581 to 1,803 people – between 2011 and 2014.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe