British Columbia

Vancouver granted injunction to evict tent city campers

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has granted the City of Vancouver an injunction allowing it to evict homeless campers from a tent city on the Downtown Eastside.

Judge says safety, sanitation concerns mean campers have a week to clear out

Resident of the homeless camp on West Hastings in Vancouver discuss the ruling on Thursday morning with their supporters and lawyers. (Mike Laanela/CBC)

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has granted the City of Vancouver an injunction, allowing it to evict homeless campers from a tent city on the Downtown Eastside.

Justice Loryl Russell said sanitation and fire dangers played a role in her decision, so she gave about 15 remaining campers a week to pack up and leave.

"Due to the persistent and remaining accumulation of used needles, other biozards — like feces — and garbage thrown out and mixed into the ground at the site and the slippery and unstable ground footing conditions ... it's my view that the site remains a severe health risk and a hazard to both occupants and emergency first responders," said Russell.

Russell also acknowledged the difficulty of finding shelter space in the city and the importance of finding safe and stable housing for the homeless, but in the end, she ruled the conditions at the camp were just too unsafe for campers to stay.

"Clearly, the solution to the problem of the tent city at 58 West Hastings is to provide secure affordable housing," said Russell. "The proposition is simple to state but not so simple to implement."

She ordered the campers to leave by next Thursday at 6 p.m. PT. She also ordered to city to provide portable toilets and garage bins at the site in the interim and to work with the remaining occupants to help them find housing.

'They are going to shelter somewhere'

At the camp on Thursday morning, Pivot Legal Society lawyer DJ Larkin said the city had the power to prevent the camp from becoming a sanitary concern but chose not to.

"The city could have stopped all this. The city provided porta-potties and they took them away."

After the ruling came down, the city announced it would return the porta-potties to the site and noted it has been providing garbage pickup and cleanup of the adjacent alleyway.

The camp sprang up on a vacant lot this past summer, and the city has been working for several weeks to find shelter spaces for those living there.

"City housing-outreach staff will continue to assist with relocation of people and their belongings ... An additional 30 shelter spaces were made available to the remaining people on site," said the statement.

Pivot Legal Society lawyer DJ Larkin says shutting down the camp will do nothing to fix the homeless crisis. (Don Marce/CBC)

But Larkin also disputed the city's claims that there are spaces available in homeless shelters for the residents and said ultimately shutting down the camp will not solve any problems.

"We can't simply continue in this fiction that we can make it against the law for homeless people to be anywhere and use that as leverage to make their lives more dangerous."

"It is not right that there should be a homeless camp in the middle of the city and as Canadians we need to solve that problem. But that means solving the housing crisis."

"By taking it down and displacing people, all we are doing is making it more comfortable for those who are housed."

Safer than the streets

Several residents of the camp said they did not know where they would be going once it is shut down.

Stacey Dubois and his wife, Ilona Schild, have both lived at the camp since it was first set up and said they would rather be at the camp than a shelter or elsewhere on the streets.

Stacey Dubois and Ilona Schild say they find the camp safer than shelters or living on the streets. (Don Marce/CBC)

"I find it a lot safer than living on the streets," said Dubois.

"Nobody has bothered us or tried to attack us. We haven't been bit by bed bugs," said Schild.

Both said it was tough for anyone to find a home these days in Vancouver, but it's particularly tough for those with a low income.

"We came here in hopes of finding a home and now we are just crushed down again. It's a hopeless situation," said Schild.

Nevertheless the couple remains hopeful the city will help them find a home before they are evicted from the camp on West Hastings next week.