Vancouver city council has deferred a debate on emergency action to address the city’s homeless crisis until Monday.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart called Friday’s emergency meeting amid an escalating homelessness situation and growing public anger over what some residents say are an attendant increase in crime and street disorder.
The proposed motion would ask city staff to look into three possible options: buying or leasing new housing in facilities like hotels, creating a city-sanctioned emergency homeless camp and the temporary conversion of city-owned buildings to emergency shelter space.
Councillors spent the morning hearing from residents, both housed and homeless, with the growing homeless camp at Strathcona Park taking centre stage
Jason Trudeau, a commercial fisherman from Manitoba who is currently living with his wife in the camp fought back tears as he explained his predicament.
The family couldn’t find housing in the city when they arrived, and found their bank account quickly drained by hotel accommodation when the pandemic struck. The children are now in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, he said.
Trudeau said he opposed the creation of a city-sanctioned homeless camp.
“It’s not a pretty place to be. Sanctioning a tent city breeds violence,” he said.
None of the other options on the table would allow Trudeau to get his kids back from authorities either, he said.
“Your guys’ solutions, I don’t even fit in. What am I supposed to do, forget about my kids?” he said.
“I don’t want to be in tent city anymore … Try living in tent city for one night.”
Katie Lewis with the Strathcona Residents Association applauded council for the proposal, saying something needed to be done about the encampment which has grown to more than 400 tents in the last three months.
“We know this camp has grown to be out of control; it is the largest homeless encampment in Canada,” she said, arguing that with winter coming, kids back in school and COVID cases worsening, the camp is unsafe for everyone.
“People are finding guns in my alley and they are trying to break into my home,” she said. “This is not funny any more.”
Advocates for the homeless also spoke, arguing that the city’s proposals had been developed with little to no input from the campers themselves.
“There’s been zero consultation from the mayor on this motion,” with the Carnegie Community Action Project.
She said homeless residents have questions and concerns about proposed housing, including whether it would be in SROs, whether there would be treatment and supports, whether it would be pet friendly or large enough.
Camp supporter Nicole Luongo argued that none of the options on the table would be very palatable to the homeless because they’re based on a “surveillance model,” in which residents would be constantly monitored.
“My concern is that this motion is really just going to perpetuate the same ineffective cycle that we’ve seen,” she said, adding that many of the residents would just return to the park.
Council is scheduled to resume at 3:30 p.m. Monday to debate the motion.