Homeless in Vancouver: The city is considering the Abbotsford homeless ruling

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      It’s been six days since the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the City of Abbotsford can’t stop homeless people from setting up temporary shelters and sleeping overnight in the city’s parks. The October 21 ruling (Abbotsford (City) v. Shantz) follows a nearly identical 2008 B.C. Supreme Court ruling affecting the City of Victoria.

      It goes without saying that municipalities across British Columbia are closely studying last week’s high court ruling but I still made a point of asking the City of Vancouver if there was any change in the policy of closing city parks overnight (such as Choklit Park, signed as being closed 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.).

      Tobin Postma, Communications Manager for the City of Vancouver, replied promptly to my emailed question:

      “As you can imagine our staff are currently reviewing the judge’s decision with regards to the Abbotsford case so we are not in a position to definitely say what impact, if any, it has on the way we address the issue of people in our parks overnight.

      I will keep you informed once our legal department provides a briefing/recommendation”.

      Don’t get your tent out just yet

      Both B.C. Supreme Court rulings gave the right to sleep rough in the city parks of Abbotsford and Victoria for the same reason: a lack in both cities of available overnight shelter beds.

      Results of the City of Vancouver’s March 24, 2015 homeless count showed that only 72 percent, or 1,258 of the total 1,746 homeless people counted, were staying in shelters. There were 488 people, or 27 percent, still sleeping rough somewhere on the streets of Vancouver.

      Putting aside the question of how many hundreds of people Vancouver’s annual 24-hour point-in-time homeless count overlooks, I still can’t imagine that the city has enough shelter beds (except perhaps on nights when the extreme weather shelters are open) to accommodate the 1,746 homeless that were counted.

      But even if Vancouver has already seen the writing on the wall and decided to throw in the towel on enforcing overnight park closures, it certainly won’t do so overnight.

      There will be much lawyering behind the scenes first and PowerPoint presentations will have to be created and presented and the police department will have to draft an approach and educate its officers (more PowerPoint presentations) and signs will have to be made and press releases drafted and—wow!—it could be a few days at least.

      Meanwhile, in the City of Abbotsford

      At the epicentre of the October 21 court ruling, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun has more or less welcomed the decision as being what he expected, following as it does the precedent of the 2008 B.C. Supreme Court ruling striking down similar bylaws against rough sleeping in Victoria city parks.

      Mayor Braun, it should be remembered, is not the politician who created the crisis of homelessness in Abbotsford that has forced the Supreme Court of British Columbia to rule in favour of people being allowed to sleep in parks—that was Bruce Banman, who was the Mayor of Abbotsford from 2011 until voters turfed him in favour of Abbotsford City Councilor Henry Braun in November 2014.

      It was Mayor Banman’s administration that refused B.C. Housing money to build shelter beds in Abbotsford and that waged a three-year terror campaign against homeless people—including infamously dumping chicken manure on campsites in 2013—in a concerted effort to drive its poorest citizens to other municipalities.

      Mayor Bruce Banman created the mess in Abbotsford that Mayor Henry Braun is now tasked with cleaning up.

      Wish him luck.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer.