VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — An advocate working with people who were living in a tent city in Vancouver’s Strathcona Park says the April 30 deadline to clear the park was arbitrary, and made the process of moving out needlessly stressful.
Although many people have moved out of the park, BC Housing says the effort to get everyone moved into indoor shelter continues Saturday.
Our efforts in Strathcona Park continue as we offer multiple people indoor shelter options. On Friday April 30, 49 more people moved into shelter/housing. So far, 292 people have moved indoors since last fall.
— BC Housing (@BC_Housing) May 1, 2021
Community organizer Fiona York says the process of decamping the park would have gone more smoothly with more time and more communication.
“More time would have been really beneficial to the process, it was a big rush and scramble for a lot of people. Most people accepted housing sight-unseen, without being able to look at it, and were packing up to the last minute and it was really stressful and tense for a lot of people,” she explains.
“What we had wanted and asked for repeatedly was to have more input and engagement in the process, along with residents and people experiencing homelessness. They are the people lived experience. There was a lot of communication, certainly.”
York says not all residents of the tent city have been housed, some have been offered spaces in homeless shelters and others have not left. One reason for that is the deadline. With more housing slated to open up soon, York says she was hoping there would be flexibility on the move-out deadline.
“There’s kind of a question about why the big rush for closing it on a fixed deadline at the end,” she says.
The more significant problem with the decampment plan is that the kind of housing that was offered was limited, according to York.
“Often what’s being offered in terms of housing is really based on assumptions that one size fits all, it’s not looking at all the various needs,” she says.
“There are many people with families, with children that they want to be able to see or reunite with, people want to be able to be with their community. So the no guest policy that’s prevalent right now, especially with COVID it’s very isolating. I’ve had lots of people call me and say, ‘It’s really difficult in my new place because I’m lonely.'”
Another issue with supportive housing options is that many have mandatory programming, so people living there are program participants and not tenants, York explains. That means they don’t have the rights and protections other renters do, furthermore, the reprogramming that is offered may not be appropriate.
“They don’t really have the support or the programming, or cultural programming we’ve be able to provide through the encampments,” York says.
“People who’ve been housed from Oppenheimer and elsewhere — not everybody’s retained their housing. The government is talking about an 80 to 90 per cent success rate but that means it’s not working for everyone. What are the reasons for that?”
Just Released: As unhoused people are evicted from Strathcona Park, they look to human rights laws to evaluate government decampment strategy. Based on these laws, they issue an overwhelmingly low grade of “D” https://t.co/dY5pq5NXR1
— Pivot Legal Society (@pivotlegal) April 29, 2021
York thinks the visibility of the camp did lead the government to purchase buildings and create more housing in the city. However, people who are in shelters or on the streets still have nowhere to go.
“Housing was kind of frozen and targeted to people who were the highest visibility of the homeless crisis and not everybody who’s been waiting numerous years for housing,” she says.
“Instead of being offered to the people most in need. It was offered to those who are most visible being the tent city. It’s not really available for the entire community and those most vulnerable.”
Ultimately, York says homelessness will persist unless and until the root causes are addressed, which will require action from all levels of government.
“In B.C. as a whole and in Canada because of COVID, because housing has been neglected for so long, there is this phenomenon of tent cities and encampments. There’s over 50 Just in BC alone.”