As the clock ticks on the deadline to decamp Strathcona Park, the province is promising two new temporary shelters in downtown Vancouver by the end of April.
The shelter spaces will provide 120 people – including those currently camping in the park which has been home to an encampment since June 2020 – with a bed and 24-7 supports while B.C.’s housing ministry works with its partners to open more permanent housing.
A 60-bed shelter will open in April at the city-owned property at 875 Terminal Avenue.
Another 60-bed facility is set to open in the old Army & Navy department store on West Hastings Street at the end of April. That building is currently co-leased by BC Housing and the City of Vancouver.
Both shelters will be run by experienced non-profit housing providers, according to the province, which also said 30 new rental supplements will be available for people who are ready to move from supportive housing into private rental properties.
SFU health sciences professor Julian Somers said he would like to see recovery-oriented housing with supports implemented in communities across the province.
“It doesn’t cost any more at the individual level to do what works,” Somers told Global News.
Somers said his research shows that matching the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people living with severe addictions and/or mental illness who are considered the “hardest to house” – with resources to meet their needs and goals – gets immediate results.
“Reductions in crime, reductions in emergency department visits, and far superior housing stability so people move in, and remain in their homes,” said Somers, who added that Strathcona Park or any encampment is not a safe place for anyone long-term.
As of Feb. 17, the west half of Strathcona Park is closed to campers and according to the Park Board, up to 16 people who had been sheltering there have either moved into housing or migrated to the east encampment.
The board said it’s on track with the province’s goal of getting all of the up to 200 Strathcona inhabitants who want homes – inside by the end of April.
“We do anticipate that once folks are housed there will be people who don’t want to leave the park,” said Vancouver Park Board general manager Donnie Rosa.
“At that point, we would seek an injunction.”
With Oppenheimer Park still off-limits after its 18-month entrenched encampment ended in May 2020 and Strathcona Park now facing long remediation, many are wondering how the Park Board will prevent a third public park from being taken over.
“That is the million-dollar question,” Rosa told Global News.
Going forward, Rosa said the goal is for park rangers to partner with police to enforce the Parks Control Bylaw that was amended last June.
“Folks can shelter overnight but they have to pack up in the morning and leave,” Rosa said.