British Columbia

B.C. government extends deadline on Victoria tent city closures

The province has extended the deadline for people to leave tent cities in Victoria until May 20. The original deadline was May 9 for campers to be out of Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park as well as Topaz and Pandora parks in Victoria.

Deadline of May 9 has been extended to May 20, province says

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said over 320 people at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, pictured, and Topaz Park and the Pandora corridor in Victoria have been moved into 'safer, temporary' accommodation. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The province has extended the deadline for people to leave tent cities in Victoria until May 20.

The provincial government originally set Saturday as a deadline for campers to be out of Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park as well as Topaz and Pandora parks in Victoria.

On Friday afternoon, Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said the province has worked to ensure those living in Oppenheimer Park have access to and are moved into temporary accommodations by May 9.

However, he said the mainly non-profit organizations offering the accommodations asked for more time to prepare for residents of Topaz and Pandora parks.

They now have until May 20 to move into hotels.

"It is our desire that we get this right, that we do it right, we do it in a way that engages people one-on-one, that is compassionate, that's considerate of people's needs and their desires," Simpson said.

"We were happy to say 'take a few more days.'"

Health workers, peer-support workers, B.C. Housing and other organizations are working on the move, he said.

No one will be asked to leave the encampments without being offered temporary housing, he added, noting the province is also working on plans for longer-term permanent housing solutions with ongoing support.

As of May 7, more than 320 campers in Vancouver and Victoria had been moved to local hotels by the provincial government.

Around 250 people in Victoria parks need accommodation, but Simpson said he's been told B.C. Housing is "confident" there will be enough temporary housing for everyone. 

Advocates call for changes to housing policies

Simpson said it's been made clear to residents of Oppenheimer Park that they must leave by noon on Saturday and that police will be there to ensure safety.

"We've been very, very clear with people that the park is going to close and staying there is not an alternative or an option," Simpson said.

Advocates say the shutdown of these tent cities is a chance to change housing policy.

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association is calling on the federal government to look at establishing a permanent acquisition program, turning temporary properties into full-time housing, said executive director Jeff Morrison.

"Could we retain them on a long-term basis so we can actually address homelessness?" he said in an interview. "The means are there, it's just a question of whether we have the political will to do that."

Failing that, Morrison said a stimulus plan after the pandemic should include building affordable housing.

Tim Richter, the CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, said there is concern that governments at various levels will abandon their affordable housing plans and return to the status quo.

"A lot of people have been talking about 'when will life go back to normal?'" he said.

"But from a homelessness perspective, normal wasn't any good. Normal was people left on the street."

With files from The Canadian Press

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