A Supreme Court of B.C. judge has granted a court order allowing Vancouver to clear tents and campers from Oppenheimer Park, but has also provided a one-week window before the order can be enforced.
The city said it would continue its efforts to help people at the encampment find homes and shelter before the court-imposed deadline of 10 p.m. on Oct. 15, saying in a statement on Wednesday that it has placed 56 homeless campers to date and is working with dozens more.
A lawyer representing the campers said the terms of the order highlight a dire housing shortage in Vancouver. People gravitated to Oppenheimer Park because they considered it safer than shelters or single-room occupancy hotels.
"This is the first time in history that a court has given this much time [to enforce an injunction] and has acknowledged that this is not a matter of protest," D.J. Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, told reporters outside the courthouse after the ruling was released.
"The judge did not refer to this as a protest and she truly understood that these are people who need homes, outreach and services."
A few dozen people started the tent city in mid-July to highlight a lack of affordable housing in the city. Since then, up to 200 tents and hundreds of people have been on the site.
On Sept. 25, the city applied for a court order to clear the camp, citing worsening weather and safety concerns for people at the park.
In affidavits filed as part of the court action, police and fire officials cited fire hazards and illegal activity, including theft, assault with a weapon, trafficking cocaine and pointing a firearm.
On behalf of the campers, Pivot Legal sought a delay in the injunction.
On Sept. 30, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Duncan granted a one-week adjournment and issued an interim order that required campers to get rid of open flames at the site. Fire officials subsequently said that order was not followed.
On Wednesday, Justice Duncan granted the injunction, saying the campers were violating city bylaws.
Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is seeking a third term in the November civic election, campaigned in 2011 on a pledge to end street homelessness by 2015.
In recent weeks, the city has announced significant investments in shelter and interim housing, including a plan to lease a hotel for two years to provide 157 units of interim housing before the site is redeveloped.