British Columbia

Majority of people moved out of Strathcona Park encampment

Over the past three weeks, park residents have been relocated by B.C. Housing and the City of Vancouver as new accommodation and shelter space became available.  

Only a few people and structures remain as 184 park residents accept options to move inside

B.C. Housing and outreach workers speak with residents days before an injunction to clear their tent encampment at Strathcona Park in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

City officials say 184 people have been moved out of Vancouver's Strathcona Park encampment in accordance with an order issued earlier this month to remove all existing tents, temporary shelters and structures by 10 a.m. Friday morning.

However, a small number of people and structures remain.

Donnie Rosa, the general manager of the Vancouver Park Board, says outreach work continues in the park. 

"Our goal is that anyone who wants to move inside will be moved inside today [Friday]. At that point, we'll have to fence the park. We will still hold things ... If people want to come get their stuff it will still be here but we want to be very respectful."

Over the past three weeks, park residents have been relocated by B.C. Housing and the City of Vancouver as new accommodation and shelter space became available.  

Housing Minister David Eby said a lot of the moves are temporary as new units of supportive housing come on line. 

"Pets are being accommodated. We just really want people to come inside," he said. According to Eby, 1,700 units of supportive housing are set to open in the next two years in Vancouver alone.

Larger issue of homelessness remains

While advocates acknowledge that moving people into housing is the right thing to do, some argue that the process should have been handled differently. Community organizer and camp volunteer Fiona York said some residents of the camp feel they were left out of the discussions about their future.

"I think it has been really stressful for people. It's been a real rush, and there's been challenges with the way communication has taken place and the way this whole process has rolled out," she said.

York pointed out that clearing the encampment doesn't address the larger problem.

"Unfortunately, the homelessness issue is not going to be addressed by housing 200 highly visible people at the forefront of media attention. It's going to continue until there's enough housing for everyone," she said.

City of Vancouver park rangers attend to a fence in Strathcona Park. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Camp resident Athena Pranteau was offered a spot at the Patricia Hotel, a single-room occupancy building in the Downtown Eastside that's owned by the province, but said she feels safer in the park. She's been a part of the community since it was first formed in Oppenheimer Park.

"Witnessing the people ... be uprooted and shuffled along from place to place has been very abrasive and intrusive. We're just looking for safe, affordable housing," Pranteau said.

B.C. Housing says its workers have been visiting the park regularly since last fall to speak with residents, and as of Friday, everyone living there has been offered housing.

"We understand that the transition indoors may be difficult. However, this encampment isn't working for anyone in the community, including for the people living in the park who are in need of safe and secure housing with supports," the housing authority said in a written statement.

Neighbours 'encouraged' by progress

Katie Lewis, vice president of the Strathcona Residents Association, said neighbours are looking forward to getting the recreational space back.

"It's been a really tough year for everyone in our neighbourhood but we are encouraged by what we're seeing. And we're encouraged to see a lot of people here getting into housing," she said.

After the fence goes up, the east side of Strathcona Park will be remediated while the west side remains open to the public.

The warming tent and washrooms installed in January have been shut down and will be removed.

Rosa says she hopes another encampment won't pop up at a different park, as has happened in the past.

"People are allowed to go shelter overnight. We will work with the community so they aren't setting up structures or encampments," she said.

with files from Joel Ballard