‘The park is going to close:’ B.C. to Vancouver homeless campers who refuse COVID-19 housing

Fencing surrounds a portion of a homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park as a man disassembles a tent, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. The province had set a May 9 deadline to temporarily relocate hundreds of people from tent encampments in Vancouver and Victoria to hotel and community centre accommodations to protect them from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The B.C. government is still aiming to move residents of an entrenched Vancouver homeless camp to temporary housing by its Saturday deadline, but says it needs more time for residents at a pair of camps in Victoria.

Two weeks ago, the province unveiled a plan to move homeless people out of Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park and Victoria’s Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue camps and into temporary housing in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus among an especially vulnerable population.


So far, 320 people from all three sites have moved into accommodations, such as hotels, and paired with mental health and addictions services, access to a clean supply of drugs for users, and culturally sensitive housing to help keep families and friends together.

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A ministerial order declared the camps must be clear by May 9.

On Friday, Minister of Social Development Shane Simpson said the province has offered housing to all Oppenheimer Park residents, but some campers have declined.

“We’re still hopeful that people will take that offer up this afternoon, but we’ve been very, very clear with people that the park is going to close, and that staying there is not an option,” Simpson said.

The deadline will be extended to May 20 for the Victoria sites, he added, because about 250 people there have nowhere to go yet.

Click to play video: 'Oppenheimer Park homeless success story'
Oppenheimer Park homeless success story

The province is still working to set up a 45-bed emergency response centre, featuring pop-up privacy pods, at Victoria’s main hockey venue, the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre.

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The province is also working on longer-term housing so that homeless people aren’t forced back onto the street as B.C. returns to a “new normal” amid the pandemic, Simpson said.

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