British Columbia

Tiny-house villages, sanctioned tent city among emergency shelter options now under review in Vancouver

Mayor Kennedy Stewart's motion asking city staff to explore feasible shelter options has been approved by council and a report is expected by Oct. 2.

Report due back Oct. 2 after councillors approved mayor's amended motion on sheltering homeless population

Strathcona Park is the site of Vancouver's newest tent city, after tents at Oppenheimer Park and CRAB Park were dismantled in the spring. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

City of Vancouver staff will investigate how best to shelter the city's homeless from a list of options approved by council at an emergency meeting Monday.

The original motion, put forward by Mayor Kennedy Stewart, put three options on the table including having the city purchase or lease housing units, create a sanctioned tent city or temporarily convert buildings into emergency housing or shelter spaces.

Councillors approved the motion on Sept. 14 with amendments added by Coun. Jean Swanson. Swanson has asked staff to also look into the feasibility of establishing a temporary tiny-house village and providing a sanctioned space for low-income residents living in recreational vehicles to park.

City staff are due to report back to council on Oct. 2.

The approaching winter weather, COVID-19 and the current homeless camp at Strathcona Park are all motivating factors for the motion.

More than 300 people are currently living in the Strathcona Park encampment. The motion that passed Monday also asks staff to consider how the proposed shelter options could facilitate a decampment in consultation with the Vancouver Park Board.

"No matter the course of action we take, we must all remember that the only way we can respond to people going through the hardest moments imaginable is by being compassionate and generous," said Stewart in a statement issued prior to the emergency meeting.

Dozens of campers at Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park were asked to leave in the spring and advocates worry dismantling Strathcona Park will create further displacement if permanent housing solutions are not found. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'It's just about displacement again'

Carnegie Community Action Project co-ordinator Fiona York, who is a daily volunteer at Strathcona Park, said she worries none of the options proposed by Stewart offer a permanent housing solution.

"It's just about displacement again," said York on CBC's The Early Edition on Tuesdayadding she would like to see council consult with people affected by homelessness when considering motions that have an impact on their wellbeing.

York also took issue with what she said is some of the language used by council when discussing homeless people, such as moving them into a "bubble zone," which York said implies they cannot mix with other members of society, and perpetuates stigmatization.

She also questioned whether an emergency shelter option, if approved, would be voluntary for Strathcona Park campers, or if they would be at risk of being criminalized if they stayed.

Stewart's motion says city staff will work with B.C. Housing and other government and non-profit agencies to invite unsheltered residents to move into housing units or shelter spaces, then to more permanent housing, as it becomes available once an option is approved.

With files from Meera Bains

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