Three months after the formation of the Strathcona Park homeless encampment, the Vancouver Park Board is set to consider a possible direction of moving the large tent city, but this would entirely hinge on upper governments.
During next Monday’s meeting, the Park Board will consider a motion from Green Party commissioner Dave Demers on relocating the encampment to a “non-park” site.
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As such a site would be outside of the Park Board’s jurisdiction, the motion officially requests both the City of Vancouver and the provincial government to identify one or more alternative non-park sites to temporarily host the encampment, “until suitable housing options can be provided.”
On Tuesday, Mayor Kennedy Stewart also introduced an emergency motion to city council that, if approved, would direct city staff to establish a “temporary emergency relief encampment” on vacant public or private land, as well as lease or purchase hotels, single-room occupancy residences, and other housing stock, and temporarily convert city-owned buildings into emergency housing or shelter space. City council will convene for the emergency session on Friday.
In a separation Park Board motion also to be discussed on Monday, COPE commissioners John Irwin and Gwen Giesbrecht want Park Board staff to defer any enforcement of any bylaw that requires homeless individuals sheltering in parks to remove their temporary shelters on a daily basis.
The encampment at Strathcona Park has grown to several hundred tents since the middle of June; it is now far larger than the peak sizes of the previous Oppenheimer Park and Crab Park encampments.
The provincial government disbanded the Oppenheimer Park in early May as a health safety measure in the pandemic, with encampment residents offered emergency housing and shelter options, including several hotels. Most moved to the new options, but a number of campers moved to the lot owned by the Port of Vancouver next to Crab Park on the waterfront.
The port authority was granted an injunction on June 10 requiring the campers to vacate the land next to the park, and Vancouver Police enforced the court decision a week later. Campers subsequently relocated to Strathcona Park.
A month after the start of the encampment at Strathcona Park, the commissioners approved an amendment to the park bylaw that permitted overnight tenting in parks.
However, Strathcona residents and businesses have reported a significant increase in criminal and illicit activity in their neighbourhood since the encampment formed. In early August, the Vancouver Police increased their patrols around the park.
A similar situation also emerged at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.
In late July, Premier John Horgan suggested the municipal government has the power to disband encampments by enforcing an existing bylaw that bans camping in the daytime. At the time, he disagreed with Victoria’s decision to not enforce the bylaw.