Province, city, park board announce roles in moving residents from Strathcona tent encampment

The Province, City of Vancouver, and Vancouver Park Board have announced roles and plans to move residents out of a controversial tent encampment in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood by the end of April.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was announced Tuesday, clarifying the “roles and responsibilities” each level of government will take over the coming weeks, with plans to move an estimated 200 people.

The Vancouver Park Board will lead the dismantling of the encampment, which will also including fencing and ongoing bylaw enforcement to ensure another camp doesn’t materialize at the park in the future.

The plan is to move campers in to several different housing options, including hotels recently purchased by the province.

“This agreement is a commitment that the city, the park board and the provincial government will work together not just to resolve the current humanitarian crisis for those living in and around Strathcona Park by the end of this month, but on a proactive and ongoing basis to minimize the risk of future problems, while providing the housing people need,” Attorney General David Eby, who is also the Minister Responsible for Housing, said in a statement Tuesday.

The encampment, which sprung up last June after the Oppenheimer and CRAB Park encampments were dismantled, quickly became a hotspot for crime, violence, and health and safety issues.

There were three fires in the park in the week before the MOU was announced, with some residents reporting campers had been running barbecues inside tents to stay warm.

Other high profile incidents have included a man losing his leg after a horrific assault, and reports of people being threatened with a chainsaw in September.

In February, a suspect in a deadly home invasion that killed Vancouver senior Usha Singh was arrested at the park.

Some tents and belongings were moved in February, with the Park Board installing a two metre fence, bisecting the encampment, to leave some of the park for community use.

While the MOU announced Tuesday is bringing a renewed sense of hope for some Strathcona residents, many have lingering doubts about the April 30 deadline.

Kelsey Mulyk has lived near the park since 2017.

“It’s a little hard to know what to think at this point,” Mulyk told CTV News Tuesday. “It is welcome news. I think there is some trepidation there won’t be very much follow-through.”

She says her trust in leadership at the provincial and city level has eroded over the past year, and she doesn’t believe the April 30 deadline is realistic given the complex issues at the encampment.

Mulyk says she would like to see a clear timeline of what steps will be taken in clearing the park and housing its current residents over the next few weeks and months.

“I want to know who is accountable. Who is making the decisions, Mulyk added.

Vancouver City Councillor Pete Fry also lives in the Strathcona neighbourhood.

“I think it’s really built up this well of anxiety and desperation to see anything happen. I’m grateful things are finally moving in the right direction,” Fry said, noting the importance of making sure the camp residents have access to housing.

After the park is clear, it’s expected extensive remediation will be needed before it can be re-opened.

“Hopefully by summertime it will be back to good old park days and people living in homes rather than tents in the mud,” Fry said.