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'You can't stop homeless people from existing by moving them': Lawyer calls out tent evictions

Last Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 6:55 am PST

(Twitter/Anna Cooper)
Summary

Vancouver lawyer says one of the biggest issues homeless people face is being evicted from their tent

Metro Vancouver says tent evictions are carried out with compassion

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Amidst Vancouver’s housing crisis there are renewed calls for municipalities and regional districts to stop evicting homeless people from their tents.

A Vancouver lawyer who works with the city’s most vulnerable people says one of the biggest issues facing her clients is they’re told to pack up and move along on a weekly if not daily basis, even though they have nowhere else to go.

“It almost doesn’t matter what legal issue we’re discussing with our clients, this is the daily thing that makes their lives impossible,” says Anna Cooper with Pivot Legal Society. “At a really practical level a person’s tent is often their only shelter and all of their personal belongings are inside it so if you seize those things, you’ve seized their means of survival.”

She says her clients will usually either find a notice on their tent informing them they have a certain amount of time to vacate or a bylaw officer will show up telling them to leave in the next hour, without offering them options of where to go. She adds homeless people often have to choose between staying with their stuff or grabbing a bite to eat and risk coming back to find it all gone.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, if you have your belongings with you, you’re not allowed to be there,” she says. “You can’t stop homeless people from existing by moving them 20 times a day.”

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Cooper wants to see cities work with their local homeless populations to find ways for people to stay safe 24/7.

“People need somewhere to be and those spaces need to exist in a city and they need to exist near where people need to go, near where their resources are and their communities are,” she says. “So rather than being one more force that’s making life impossible, I’d like them to be part of the solution especially given that it’s clearly recognized that we’re in a housing crisis.”

Rod Tulett, Security & Emergency Coordinator for Metro Vancouver, which sometimes issues eviction notices to tents on their land admits it’s not a long term solution.

“It’s unfortunate that we do have a homeless problem but our hands are tied in a lot of cases in dealing with – call it – illegal camping basically,” he says, “We try and treat everybody with compassion and realizing that their situation may be beyond their control and that they really have no malicious intent.”

He says last year an officer even personally drove a homeless couple to a shelter, arranging a spot for them and adds their eviction notices list resources on the back.

“To assist them in the way of social services such as assistance in finding housing, shelters and things like that. We have one tailored for each area of the region.”

Tulett says tents are usually evicted because of safety or operational concerns because of the location they’re on or public complaints.

Metro Vancouver does not issue notices on municipal land as cities have their own bylaw officers or ways of addressing the issue.

Meanwhile, Cooper has this message for people: “When you see a person living in a tent before you pick up your phone and call by-law or call the police just pause and recognize that this is a person who has probably found the safest place for them to be.”