The BC Government has allocated $75.5 million to purchasing indoor spaces for the homeless
By Luana Ross, Senior Columnist
Encampment resident Claudette Abraham reported flames that were about 25 feet in the air due to propane tank explosions.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart estimated that COVID-19 pushed up to 1500 people out of shelters due to reduced capacity restrictions. So it comes as welcome news to some that last Friday, the City of Vancouver broadcast that it had purchased the former 205 Kingsway Mount Pleasant Best Western to repurpose into 68 units of supportive housing.
Earlier this month, the Patricia Hotel at 403 E. Hastings St. was purchased for the same reason. In total, the city has obtained six hotels to convert. The Government of BC devoted $75.5 million to the three most recently attained hotels, and all together the buildings offer 340 permanent homes with support for the homeless.
These spaces have been purchased as a solution for pressing issues like the Strathcona Park encampment for example. Because of such, the government will be enforcing its bylaws against camping in the park at the end of the month to clear the encampment. Specifically, an order has been delivered that “all existing tents, temporary shelters and structures must be removed from Strathcona Park by 10am Friday, April 30.”
Similarly, Oppenheimer Park had an 18-month encampment until May 2020. It dissolved when BC Housing moved campers to supportive indoor spaces. But the Strathcona Park campers created Canada’s biggest tent city by June 2020—so some are skeptical that the problem will go away so easily. Katie Lewis, vice-president of the Strathcona Residents’ Association, brings up the concern that campers will not leave unless what they have asked for is given to them. According to The Canadian Press, “A group representing those in the park has said they want residences that are at least 600 square feet, that allow drug use and have no restrictions on guests.” In reference to the homelessness crisis, in an interview with the CBC, Anna Cooper—staff lawyer with Pivot Legal Society—says that “it’s impossible to achieve” a solution. “For a short period of time you’ll have some people indoors. Then a bunch of people—that housing won’t work for them—they’ll be evicted, they’ll be banned from a shelter, they’ll be on the street again.” The staff lawyer predicts that the encampment situation will arise again shortly. She calls the zero-encampment policy one that does not seem “fundamentally caring, rights-based, or dignified. That sounds like the policing of unhoused people and forcing them out of the public eye.”
In contrast to Cooper’s statements, Strathcona resident and father Adam Levy was exhausted by the government’s inaction in dealing with the encampment. When speaking of the park, Levy stated that in the park one will find “condoms and needles, broken glass, everything.” While the city has cleaned “over 70 tonnes of garbage” from the park from October 2020 to the end of February 2021, Levy states that from his experience “they’ve done a half-ass job of cleaning up half of Strathcona Park […] There is still endless amounts of garbage there, if you go to the east side.” Other issues in the park that have been reported on include high-profile camper Sandy Parisian getting charged with killing a senior citizen—and when officers arrived at the park to search her tent, the cops were met with a “volatile and hostile crowd” of encampment residents that had to be held back by a line of police. Additionally, as reported by the Vancouver Sun, encampment resident Claudette Abraham reported flames that were about 25 feet in the air due to propane tank explosions.
Although there are many disagreements about the zero-encampment policy and the attempted solutions and necessity for bylaw enforcement, nearly all of the people interviewed on the subject highlight the importance of getting help to those struggling with mental health issues and addictions. May 2021 will offer the City of Vancouver some more insight into their attempt to solve this crisis.