British Columbia

Days after Vancouver's Crab Park tent city dismantled, new camp growing in Strathcona

After two tent cities were dismantled in as many months, a third encampment has emerged in East Vancouver as the city's homeless residents struggle to find places live.

Dozens of tents set up at new site; many residents arrive from previously dismantled camps

Chrissy Brett, a camp liaison at two previous tent cities, is now stationed at an encampment at Strathcona Park in East Vancouver. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

After two tent cities were dismantled in as many months, a third encampment has emerged in East Vancouver as the city's homeless residents struggle to find places to live.

Strathcona Park is the latest site of a homeless encampment where dozens of campers have settled in around a gravel track.

The camp emerged shortly after police cleared a tent city near Crab Park on June 15.

On Sunday, campers could be seen organizing tents and splitting wood on the south side of the 10 hectare green space, while on the other end, fields, picnic tables and playgrounds were busy with park visitors.

Advocates are asking that more be done to house people who have been moving from camp to camp in Vancouver.

"[Government leaders] really need to step it up, and figure out a way to solve this on a municipal level, provincial level, and a federal level," said Chrissy Brett, a camp liaison.

Brett says about half of the campers in this latest encampment came from previous tent cities at Oppenheimer Park and Crab Park.

The encampment emerged shortly after campers were evicted from the site near Crab Park on June 15. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Multiple evictions

A tent city at Oppenheimer Park had grown to hundreds of residents for nearly a year before it was ordered shut down in late April amid health concerns and fears over the transmission of COVID-19.

Many people were moved into temporary housing secured by the province, while others went to a new tent city on a lot near Crab Park. That site grew to upwards of 100 campers.

On June 10, the British Columbia Supreme Court granted the Vancouver Port Authority an injunction against members of the illegal encampment. They were forced out days later.

"What harm would it have really done the federal government to leave people in an unused, paved parking lot that wasn't taking up a neighbourhood's green space?" said Brett.

Brett said campers have been in regular conversations with members of the Vancouver Park Board, which has jurisdiction over Strathcona Park. So far they have not been asked to leave.

Tents are scattered throughout the south end of Strathcona Park. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Calls for housing

Park Board commissioner John Irwin says the city needs to do a better job tackling its homelessness crisis, even if it means borrowing money from the province.

He says the current habit of clamping down on encampments through the justice system isn't working.

"The costs of policing, social services, courts — they can actually eat up a lot of public revenue as well," said Irwin. "I think if we can shift some of that revenue toward these issues... will it be perfect? It's not going to be perfect, but we can probably improve things quite a bit."

Irwin says the Park Board will be holding a special meeting soon, where commissioners will consider allowing overnight camping in some city parks. The practice is already allowed in several municipalities in B.C., including Victoria.

Meanwhile, the province says around 800 units of housing that were secured for homeless residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic are full.

In a statement, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson said the province is asking "the federal government to step up and contribute capital dollars for acquisitions, modular housing and other long-term solutions."

With files from Joel Ballard