British Columbia

B.C. working to house people camping in Vancouver park as deadline to leave looms

British Columbia's housing minister says campers in Vancouver's Strathcona Park can either choose to accept the housing they are offered or leave the park by tomorrow's deadline.

Strathcona park campers must tear down tents by Friday morning under supervision of Vancouver's Park Board

Donnie Rosa, general manager of the Vancouver Park Board says mattresses, needles and other debris have already been removed from the west side of Strathcona Park. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

British Columbia's housing minister says campers in Vancouver's Strathcona Park can either choose to accept the housing they are offered or leave the park by tomorrow's deadline.

David Eby says there will be "difficult" conversations with campers, particularly those who do not want to move into more traditional housing, but moving from camp to camp is not a long-term solution.

Campers at the park have until Friday at 10 a.m. to tear down their tents, with Vancouver's Park Board handling enforcement of the order to remove any temporary structures.

More than 200 people have been moved to indoor housing from the park, and Eby says he expects to house the remaining campers by the end of the week.

Police and neighbours have complained about crime connected to the park, while fire officials have voiced concerns about dangerous conditions.

The campers moved into Strathcona Park after the Vancouver Port Authority won a court injunction requiring them to leave a parking lot next to CRAB Park on Burrard Inlet.

Smoke is visible at Strathcona Park in January. Fire crews responded more than 30 fires during the coldest months of winter. Tents and tarps are flammable and campers also risk poisoning themselves with carbon monoxide if they burn fuel inside an enclosed space. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some campers previously lived in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside for nearly two years, but  that encampment was shut down by the B.C. government in May 2020 over fears of spreading COVID-19.

Chrissy Brett, a spokeswoman for the camp, said she's been assured that campers will have the weekend to slowly gather their gear instead of being forced to leave by the Friday deadline.

Campers could be seen Thursday packing their belongings into vehicles, with B.C. Housing workers helping some of those wanting to move to available housing options.

Garbage trucks and city engineering staff worked on the borders of the encampment disposing of trash and unwanted belongings.

Brett said she rejects claims raised by others that she is against housing.

"I'm against forcing people to take indoor space that is not permanent housing, that does not work for them, or permanent housing with no support,'' she said Thursday.

Some of those living in the park say the housing solutions offered by the province represent a "mixed bag.''

Scrap metal and various bike parts on Tuesday, days before a deadline to clear the tent encampment at Strathcona Park in East Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Haven Couture was at the campsite to visit her sons on Thursday.

She had also been camping in Strathcona Park but moved to the former Holiday Inn in downtown Vancouver after the government bought it and converted the building into housing for homeless.

However, she said the staff there won't allow her sons to visit.

"It's in our DNA to be together,'' she said, referencing her Indigenous background. "So when we're alone in a square box, watching a square TV, we feel that gaping hole that was taken away from us and our culture.''

She's now looking for a home that will allow her family to visit.

Brett did not rule out further encampments, and said she wants the province to give the group a mix of modular housing that also has space outdoors for tents until permanent housing is available.

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