British Columbia

Ottawa must step up to help end homelessness because bylaw changes aren't enough, Vancouver mayor says

The city's Park Board recently amended a bylaw to allow people with nowhere else to go to camp overnight in city parks. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says the onus is now on the federal government to do their part and extend monetary help for housing solutions.

'The missing partner is the federal government,' says Kennedy Stewart

Strathcona Park in Vancouver is the most recent location where people living on the streets have created an ad-hoc tent city. A bylaw amendment means people can now camp legally overnight, but the city's mayor says the federal government must come to the table to help with permanent housing solutions. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Mayor of Vancouver says the city and province have stepped up to the plate to help the city's homeless and now it's up to the federal government to join the team.

On Wednesday, the Vancouver Park Board voted to amend a bylaw to allow people to camp overnight in city parks in response to the rising number of people seeking temporary shelter due to the city's ongoing homelessness crisis.

More than 200 tents were recently erected at a homeless camp in Strathcona Park on the city's east side. It's not far from Oppenheimer Park, where a controversial tent city existed prior to the pandemic, during which the province purchased hotels and moved people safely indoors.

But Kennedy Stewart said he does not think the onus to help the homeless should be on the Park Board and that a coordinated approach is critically needed now.

"The missing partner is the federal government," Stewart said Thursday on CBC's The Early Edition.

James S. Low, resident of the Strathcona Park homeless camp, eats lunch at his tent on July 3. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"We've had a promise from the federal government to reduce street homelessness by half by 2027," said Stewart, but despite this, he added, Ottawa has not handed over the money needed for 300 pending units of modular housing on land he said the city has ready.

The mayor said he has had at least 50 phone calls concerning that money and it is still in limbo.

"If they can buy a pipeline over a weekend for $4.5 billion they can probably spare a little bit of cash for some modular housing across the province," said Stewart, referring to the Trans Mountain pipeline, which the federal government bought in 2018.

'Bylaws, in the end, they're not going to matter that much. It's more the co-ordinated response that will eventually help these folks that are in real dire need,' says Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart on addressing homelessness in the city. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Katie Lewis, vice-president of the Strathcona Residents' Association, also does not think the Park Board should be responsible for addressing homelessness and asked the board to cede jurisdiction to the city or the province.

"It's not their mission, it's not their mandate and I really strongly believe they don't have the resources to deal with this issue," said Lewis.

She said she hopes the bylaw amendment will prompt Ottawa to come to the table. 

Stewart said unsheltered people looking for a place to sleep is not just affecting park use. He said he spoke this week with business improvement associations in the city's downtown retail district that are also seeing increased homelessness.

Strathcona Park homeless camp in Vancouver on July 3. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Park Board commissioner John Coupar, who voted against the amended bylaw, said he believes its approval opens the door to more overnight camping in parks, something he says residents are concerned about. 

With 14 full-time park rangers managing 240 parks in the city, Coupar said there's very little chance of enforcing this bylaw. 

"We need to keep our parks safe and clean for everybody," he said. 

Providing housing is a mandate for other levels of government, not the park board, he added. 

Chrissy Brett, a camp liaison now stationed at the encampment in Strathcona Park, said campers were not adequately consulted on amendments to the bylaw.

Chrissy Brett, Strathcona Park’s homeless camp liaison, says campers themselves were not adequately consulted on a bylaw amendment. The amended bylaw allows people to erect temporary overnight shelters in some Vancouver parks and requires them to be taken down by 7 a.m. the next morning. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Asked whether the tents will come down at 7 a.m. each day, Brett said that remains to be seen.

"This is an Indigenous-led camp ... people will need to do what they need to do and they will make those choices," she said. "I think there's always been power in numbers."

Numbers from the city's 2019 homeless count showed there are more than 2,000 city residents who identify as homeless and 614 people living on the street.

Numbers from the homeless count conducted in March have yet to be released.

To hear the complete interview with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition

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