A so-called tent city that has occupied Oppenheimer Park since mid-July has had its day and now must come to an end, the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled.
On October 8, justice Jennifer Duncan granted an injunction that the City of Vancouver sought to dissemble more than 100 tents that stand in the park located at the corner of Powell Street and Dunley Avenue.
Campers—which Duncan said number 175 to 200—have been given until 10 p.m. on Wednesday, October 15, to find alternative shelter and vacate the property. At that time, the city can begin removing tents from the park.
Affidavits filed in support of the city’s application for an injunction describe a number of health and safety concerns that became more serious the longer the tents remained in the park.
Fire hazards persisted, there were fights and incidents in which some campers threatened others, drug abuse became an issue, and unsanitary conditions were found in some people’s tents.
The campers were represented by lawyers with Pivot Legal Society. DJ Larkin argued that disassembling the camp would cause more harm to the homeless living there than those people’s occupation of the park was inflicting on the city.
Duncan spoke at length about how she arrived at her decision to rule in the city’s favour.
She acknowledged that some campers work regular jobs but cannot afford rent in Vancouver. She also noted that some campers have said they prefer residing in the park to sleeping at a shelter.
However, Duncan found that people living in Oppenheimer were violating bylaws that prohibit camping in a public park; therefore, she ruled, tents should be removed.
Shortly after the announcement of that decision, the city issued a media release stating that police and firefighters will continue to monitor the park.
"The City of Vancouver will continue its efforts to assist those in the Park who are homeless to access available shelter and housing options ahead of the October 15, 10pm deadline," it reads. "The City hopes to count on the cooperation of camp residents to ensure that this transition period results in a safe and peaceful resolution."
The release goes on to note that in recent weeks the city has opened over 100 new shelter spaces.
One day earlier, on October 7, the Coalition of Progressive Electors proposed establishing a permanent tent city. Opponents, including park board chair Aaron Jasper dismissed the idea as "irresponsible".
At its peak-size in mid-August, as many as 400 people were living in some 200 tents pitched in the park.
According to the region’s last homeless count, the number of people sleeping unsheltered on the streets of Vancouver has more than tripled over the past three years, from 154 in 2011 to 536 in 2014.