Two months after B.C. Premier David Eby promised to address encampments on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the province is finalizing an action plan to get the most vulnerable population housed.
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“It’s a balance between wanting to do it fast but also wanting to do it right,” Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon told Global News in an interview.
“So that we’re not just causing more disruption and making it even harder for those people to find stability in their lives.”
While there has been a noticeable reduction in the number of tents along Hastings Street and in CRAB Park, Kahlon said his government continues to work with partners and stakeholders on the path forward.
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After about eight months at CRAB Park, Shawn Dunbar said he can’t wait to get out.
“It’s miserable,” Dunbar told Global News as rain drenched tents on Sunday.
“It’s not a nice place to live, I don’t recommend it.”
The encampment on the western edge of the public park’s waterfront was established in May 2021, and is still home to some two dozen people, including Dunbar and his partner.
The couple moved to B.C. from Ontario three years ago, and according to Dunbar, became homeless when a live-work arrangement in Kelowna ended.
Now, he said, the novelty of outdoor living has worn off.
“It was great at first because it was almost like an adventure camp in the park,” Dunbar said.
“Right by the ocean it’s fantastic, my wife and I, and then as time wore on, it started getting colder and more wet.”
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“We know they’re not safe, they’re not safe for the people living there and we’ve heard from people in the communities, it’s not safe for them,” Kahlon said of ongoing encampments.
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Last May, a man was murdered in CRAB Park while its encampment was the scene of a mass stabbing in October and a major tent fire in December.
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That same month, the B.C. government announced it was working with the City of Vancouver to build 90 units of housing to help clear out the ongoing encampments in CRAB Park and East Hastings Street.
Still, Kahlon said moving everyone inside is challenging.
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“We have people right now that are in CRAB Park or Hastings Street that actually have residences, that are actually in supportive housing but still choose to go out there.”
While some may not want to leave the sense of community an encampment provides Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry said if people are staying outside because they feel safer there than in more permanent housing, we need to assess the deficiencies in the available shelter options.
“It needs to be safe, it needs to be clean, it needs to be you know, all the appropriate things,” Fry told Global News in an interview Sunday.
“But if it comes down to like, a no-rules lifestyle, that’s not necessarily what we’re here to support either.”
In January 2022, the Vancouver Park Board’s request for an injunction to clear the CRAB Park encampment was rejected by BC Supreme Court Justice Matthew Kirchner, who ruled people cannot be evicted if suitable housing alternatives are not available.
“I think that sort of burden of proof is what’s going to be necessary to actually kind of make that next move, to get folks out of the park,” said Fry.
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“I’m just lining a job up now, I don’t want to be here (any) more,” Dunbar told Global News.
Dunbar said he turned down a housing offer on Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside because he doesn’t use drugs and wants to avoid that lifestyle.
Conditions in CRAB Park are difficult he said, with the power recently shut off during winter weather.
“Everybody out there is like one paycheque away from living like this you know, and it’s so bad.”
The Park Board has installed a new transformer to provide electricity to the CRAB Park encampment after a spokesperson said vandalism to the power supply available to park users, programs and events was discovered in December.
“Someone attempted to bypass the circuit breaker resulting in major electrical hazards: arcing and flashing,” read a statement.
The Park Board has also secured the new transformer behind a fence to “help prevent repeated damage”, while signage has been installed to “ensure safety and proper usage.”
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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