Housing advocates and unhoused people in Vancouver are calling for a moratorium on any tent and property seizures during the winter, as many struggle to find permanent housing and indoor shelter — particularly in the Downtown Eastside and CRAB Park.
The group Stop the Sweeps led a press conference Wednesday urging the City of Vancouver, police and park rangers not to evict anyone, and to suspend enforcement of the Park Control Bylaw, which prohibits sheltering in parks during daylight hours without express permission from the park board’s general manager.
The moratorium should remain in effect until May 31 next year, the group argued.
“People should not be evicted into the cold weather to be outside, outdoors all day — especially people who are seniors, who are elderly, people with health conditions, people who don’t have anywhere to go, who have to carry their belongings with them all day,” said Fiona York, spokesperson for CRAB Park.
“It’s people’s survival, it’s their ability to exist. It’s also just the daily grind and the toll that it takes when people are packing up their tents every single day.”
UBCM pushes back against B.C.’s homeless shelter bill
People are allowed to camp during the day in a single corner of CRAB Park, following a protracted court battle that ended with the city being ordered to leave the encampment in place. The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation sought an injunction to have it removed, but a B.C. Supreme Court Judge rejected the application last year, citing a lack of suitable shelter elsewhere.
In his ruling, Justice Matthew Kirchner noted that the park was the “last major public park” in or near the Downtown Eastside open to overnight sheltering, and closing it could affect residents access to services.
“Simply assuming that those sheltering in CRAB Park can find ‘another place to go’ fails to accord the necessary priority to their (charter) rights and ensure minimal impairment of those rights,” he found.
Homeless advocacy groups call for more DTES shelter spaces
The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation declined an interview Wednesday. Emailed responses from the board and the City of Vancouver did not indicate they would agree to the calls outlined by advocates.
“There is no quick fix to solve homelessness. Although we recognize shelters are not ideal and the demand is greater than what is available, shelter space is an important interim solution for people to come inside and stay dry and warm throughout the cold months as more permanent housing is built,” wrote Ali Siemens, senior communications specialist for the city.
Since last year, she said the city has converted an additional 250 temporary winter shelter beds to year-round shelter spaces, bringing the year-round total to 1,400 shelter spaces in Vancouver.
A spokesperson for the park board further described the Park Control Bylaw, which allows dusk-until-dawn tent sheltering, as a “balanced approach to managing park spaces that provides access to parks for all members of the community to use.” The daily dismantling of tents in the non-designated area of CRAB Park is not a decampment, the spokesperson added, but rather enforcement of the bylaw.
“We recognize that a thoughtful approach to people’s belongings is important and Park Rangers will be prepared to remove non-essential items and store essential items for people sheltering in the park,” he wrote. “Stored belongings can be accessed at a later date by talking to Park Rangers or calling 311.”
Tents and tarps dismantled at CRAB Park in Vancouver
Unhoused folks, meanwhile, described “dehumanizing” experiences living outdoors under the current rules — including having their belongings confiscated without notice, and a revolving door of garbage bags and garbage bins being handed to them by municipal staff.
“The city is stealing from us homeless people and it’s got to stop. We’re already on the ground. They’re stomping us on the ground,” said Jonathan, who has lived in both Victoria and CRAB parks. His prized trumpet from Grade 7 was recently taken along with his tent by by park rangers, he added, pleading, “Help us do something about this.”
6 teenagers stand trial for alleged role in French teacher’s beheading
B.C. woman gets surgery in U.S., says wait times at home could have cost her life
York said she was there when Jonathan’s belongings were taken — and he was sobbing.
“He was losing everything that he had. He’d been displaced once again. He had made himself a little spot where he felt safe. He was warm. He had his things. He could make a meal,” she recalled.
“And everything was being thrown into pickup trucks and trashed, a couple of things put into storage.”
Many unhoused folks don’t feel safe using shelters, she added, making outdoor communities the best place for them in lieu of permanent housing.
Voices grow against Vancouver Downtown Eastside decampment
The park board denied any allegations of violence, impoundments and belongings being taken away as “inaccurate” and “inconsistent” with its practices.
“As always, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation continues to work with a rights-based and equity lens when doing this work. Park Rangers are working with full respect and compassion while asking for compliance with the Park Control By-law,” the spokesperson wrote.
The press conference comes nearly eight months after the high-profile and controversial decampment of Hastings Street by the City of Vancouver in April. More than 90 structures were removed during that process due to what the head of Vancouver Fire Rescue Service described as “catastrophic” health and safety risks.
Both the BC Civil Liberties Association and Pivot Legal Society have argued that sustained efforts to “forcefully evict” people sheltering outside in the Downtown Eastside, coupled with government failures to provide adequate, safe and effective housing, amount to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate protects the right to housing in Canada with support from the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Report finds more BC seniors are at risk of being homeless
In an interview Wednesday, Premier David Eby described outdoor encampments as a “last resort” during the growing housing crisis.
“There’s a constitutional recognized right of people when shelter spaces aren’t available to be able to set up a tent in a park. That is not what we want. We want people to be inside, in a shelter, with supports,” he said.
Earlier this month, the province announced 100 new affordable and supportive units under construction in the Downtown Eastside in a mixed-use housing development. The project at 320 Hastings St. is a partnership of the provincial and federal governments, BC Housing, the City of Vancouver, the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA), and First United and Lu’ma Native Housing Society.
Sign up to receive newsletters and breaking news email alerts.