British Columbia

Shutdown of tent cities a chance to change housing policy, advocates say

Advocates and the homeless say the closure of tent cities in Victoria and Vancouver offer governments a chance to reshape housing policies across the country.

Province set Saturday deadline to clear Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park, Victoria's Topaz and Pandora parks

Residents of Oppenheimer Park on April 23. The government says the tent city must be evacuated by May 9. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

T.J. Lovell had just 30 minutes to pack up his belongings from the tent city in Oppenheimer Park if he wanted access to a hotel room that he could share with his father.

Lovell, who had camped in the tent city for two months, was one of about 300 homeless people who have been living at the park due to a lack of affordable housing before he was moved to a hotel in downtown Vancouver.

"The rooms we have are nicer than most places I've actually lived in and paid rent for. There's no mould, there's no water damage, there are no bugs," he said.

Advocates and the homeless say the closure of tent cities in Victoria and Vancouver offer governments a chance to reshape housing policies across the country.

Many residents of Oppenheimer Park are being moved into vacant hotel rooms in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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

Many of the campers have already been moved to local hotels by the provincial government.

The Canadian Housing and Renewal Association is calling on the federal government to look at establishing a permanent acquisition program, turning temporary properties in to full-time housing, said its 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 whether we have the political will to do that."

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

Other national advocates are warning provincial and the federal governments against returning to previous housing plans for homeless people.

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."

Criticism of B.C. plan

B.C.'s approach has faced some criticism from local advocates, who argue the province is just targeting the most visible section of its homeless population and bypassing those who are waiting for permanent housing.

"It shouldn't be about pitting people against anyone, but somebody might be getting housed before another person who is waiting longer or who is more in need. Where is that compassion to look after those people who are the most vulnerable?" said Fiona York, a co-ordinator with the Carnegie Action Plan in Vancouver about those receiving hotel rooms.

She would like to see B.C. follow the lead of Toronto and purchase empty hotel sites to house more homeless people.

"Hopefully this will be an opportunity to make sure this never happens again and that we rethink the whole idea of housing and homelessness and take the opportunity to actually address it in a meaningful way," York said.

B.C. Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the government is doing all it can to help a marginalized community.

"As we have in previous efforts to provide housing and resolve encampments ... we are using the available options to provide the best outcome for the whole community," she said in a statement.

The provincial government is committed to building or finishing 23,000 homes across the province to ensure those moving into temporary accommodations have permanent homes, she added.

Lovell said he's fine with the temporary nature of the hotels and hopes to be able to afford a basement suite when he and his father have to leave.

"Some people can't take care of themselves, but I want to get back to a normal lifestyle," he said.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?