Mayor Kennedy Stewart is calling a special council meeting to find housing for Vancouver's tent city residents.
“We all know that the situation is getting tougher here right across the city when it comes to people living rough,” he told CTV News in an interview. "After talking with all the experts, we’re really concerned with the spike in COVID cases, we’re very concerned with the winter months coming on and we have to help our most vulnerable folks.”
The motion he has tabled lists three options: leasing or purchasing housing units such as hotels, SROs and other available housing stock; establishing a temporary emergency relief encampment on vacant public or private land; or temporarily converting city-owned buildings into emergency housing or shelter space.
Yaletown residents are familiar with the first option, as it would be similar to what’s happened for Oppenheimer Park residents, some of whom are now living at the former Howard Johnson Hotel, explained Stewart.
The mayor said he's been in discussions with Police Chief Adam Palmer, and that while Vancouver has seen an overall reduction in crime, "we are seeing an increase in the kind of crimes that you worry about, which are the more serious and violent crimes – robbery and things like that."
The second option, an encampment, would likely require a city partnership with the park board or a private company. Stewart floated another park or golf course as options but the camp would need to have all the facilities required, and “hopefully be run with provincial partners."
Using publicly owned facilities is what the city did at the beginning of the pandemic. Stewart said that third option means they need to identify how many buildings they have, how many people can safely stay there, and the locations.
“Now we’re moving to almost a triage situation where we have to pick one of these three options and that’s a really tough job,” he said.
Residents living in the Strathcona Park tent city have been there for months. It popped up after residents at another near Crab park were forced out by an injunction.
“The one thing that really hurt everybody was when the federal government, the Port of Vancouver, put an injunction on Crab park and really that just threw a bowling ball in some of those neighbourhoods,” Stewart told CTV News. He said since the pandemic shelters have had to limit numbers because of physical distancing, so many that had a capacity of 60 people now can only fit 20 to 25.
“Where do those extra 40 people go?”
Stewart acknowledged whichever option is chosen will have a hefty price tag. “The City really only has the property tax base to work from and so I think we have to move forward with something but that will mean probably we’ll have to delay some projects and some of the things we’re doing now in order to afford this,” he said.
He’s hoping both the provincial and federal governments will pitch in.
The special council meeting is scheduled for Friday and the public is invited to participate. If the mayor’s motion is approved, city staff have until Oct. 1 to come back with the details.