After nearly a year and plenty of controversy, people are being moved out of a homeless encampment in Vancouver’s Strathcona Park.
The province and BC Housing have committed to finding housing for campers and removing all tents and structures from the park by April 30.
To help with that goal, B.C.’s provincial government has recently bought six properties it says will eventually provide about 340 supportive units of housing.
BC Housing says about 70 people have been moved to more permanent housing, 11 of them within the last day.
Several hundred people remain, but BC Housing executive Stephanie Allen said dozens of other housing offers have been accepted.
The process has the Strathcona Residents’ Association nervous, but cautiously optimistic.
“Strathcona park makes up 80 per cent of the green space in Strathcona, and we’ve been without it for a year. So we’re really hopeful the transition goes smoothly and peacefully,” vice-president Katie Lewis said.
“We definitely know there are some groups in the camp that are not happy with the housing that has been offered and have no interest in taking it. So what will happen on April 30 is we expect to see a number of people will still be in the park.”
The Strathcona encampment has been a flashpoint since it was established last June. Area residents say it precipitated a surge in violent and property crime, while camp spokespeople say the people living there have nowhere to go.
There have been multiple fires, fatal overdoses and serious assaults in the park, and a man who was living there is facing murder charges for allegedly impersonating a police officer and killing a woman during a home invasion.
When Global News attended the camp on Friday to get residents’ perspectives, a group of young people surrounded our crew attempting to block any filming and pledging to remain in the park past the deadline.
Allen told Global News it will be up to the city’s park board to determine next steps if some people in the park refuse to leave.
But she said she said her experience with the end of another entrenched Vancouver homeless camp last year gives her hope.
“Last year at Oppenheimer, the folks we worked with who needed housing and wanted housing, most of them accepted those offers,” she said.
“At the end the park closed down, folks who remained were asked to vacate and they left without incident. We’re really hopeful that’s what happens this time.”
No one with the Vancouver Park Board was made available for an interview on the topic Friday.
“At this point, everyone has fulfilled their end of the deal, so I am very hopeful this doesn’t result in another encampment somewhere else,” Lewis said.
“Because we’ve seen how these long-term encampments play out.”