Some campers remain in Vancouver's Strathcona Park after moving deadline

A tent encampment in Strathcona Park has come to a close as the majority of people who had been sleeping there have now moved into government-organized accommodations

An April 9 order by the city's park board set Friday morning as the deadline for campers to remove all tents and structures, which were set up after the Vancouver Port Authority won a court injunction requiring them to leave nearby Crab Park.

They previously camped at Oppenheimer Park, which was shut down by the B.C. government after nearly two years over fears of COVID-19 spreading.

A statement from the city says officials have worked with BC Housing to move 184 people into indoor accommodations, including some shelter spaces and private rooms in hotels purchased by the province.

Brent Corkum is one of those people. Earlier this week, he moved out of the park and into government-arranged housing several blocks away.

“It’s independent, or non-assisted living,” he says. “It’s really quite nice.”

The Park Board says a small number of tents and temporary shelters remain in the park and officials are working with the remaining people on other options.

However, encampment resident Athena Pranteau says she and others have no plans to leave.

“I’ll be staying here as long as everyone else stays here, because not everybody wants to live in supportive housing or an SRO.”

Vancouver Park Board General Manager Donnie Rosa says campers will be able to access their belongings throughout the weekend, with staff fencing off the area and controlling access in and out. The Park Board is hopeful all remaining campers will leave the park on their own, and did not specify what actions would be taken against anyone who refuses to leave.

Camp organizers are frustrated with how the eviction is playing out. Fiona York says all levels of government have rushed the process, without adequate consultation with campers. She says some people have found themselves in housing that doesn’t meet their needs.

“We had people go into housing days ago, they still come to the park every day to see their friends and play chess and have their social life. Some of those things are what we would hope to see go into housing in the future.”

York would have liked the eviction deadline to be pushed back by a month, to ensure campers had time to weigh their options and move into accommodations that would work for them long-term. She also points to the bigger picture of homelessness in Vancouver.

"There's just enough housing that's been accumulated to have the most visible group of people who are homeless housed," she says, referring to campers at Strathcona Park. "There's maybe 250 people here, but there's over 750 people who are unsheltered and homeless in Vancouver."

Park Board staff will monitor parks across Vancouver to prevent the creation of other encampments.

“There's always that chance it could happen,” Rosa said. “We're going to do the best we can to avoid new encampments.”

Corkum says it’s only a matter of time until a new tent encampment emerges in a Vancouver park, because not everyone who’s homeless wants to live indoors.

“This won’t end. It’ll move from this spot, to the next spot, to the next spot,” he says. “A lot of people want to be free. They don’t want to live a conformed life. Those who do go into housing may not know what to do next. It might be too good for them.”

A warming tent and hygiene facilities that had been installed in January were set to shut down on Friday. The east side of the park will be fenced off for cleanup, while the west side remains open for public use.

Rosa said she expects remediation efforts to take roughly three to four months but she did not have an estimate on how much it would cost.

With files from The Canadian Press