'Fight as much as we can': Tent city residents challenge trespass notice
Published Friday, June 16, 2017 9:29AM PDT
Last Updated Friday, June 16, 2017 6:42PM PDT
Hours after a trespass notice came into effect at Vancouver's "Ten Year Tent City," many of its residents still showed no signs of moving.
The order from the city to vacate the Main Street property came into effect at 7 a.m. on Friday, but some say they plan to stay. Others said that even if do they leave, they'll likely return to the land, located on the edge of the Downtown East Side.
The trespass notice came from the Lu'ma Native BC Housing Society, and informed those camping at 950 Main St. that the empty lot had been leased by the City of Vancouver to the housing group for 60 years. The lease began Thursday, the notice said, and occupants were told to vacate by Friday morning.
The "Ten Year Tent City" is relatively new, but was erected on land used as a homeless encampment a decade ago. Residents started occupying the land earlier this spring, and defied an eviction notice issued by the city at the end of April.
The lease to Lu'ma followed a court ruling last month that denied the city's request for an injunction to dismantle the camp, a statement from housing advocacy group Alliance Against Displacement said.
"The City’s sudden move to lease it out to a non-profit organization and the subsequent trespass notice dodges responsibility for the dire housing needs of camp residents as well as the 2,200 people counted as homeless people in Vancouver," the group said.
"It demonstrates the City’s determination to circumvent the court ruling, recruiting a non-profit organization who can present as a property owner less beholden to the public good."
The city had said prior to the court decision that the land was slated for social housing units. Lu'ma's plans for the land include a 26-unit housing complex with about a third of units available at shelter rates of $375 a month. Another third would be rented out for $650 per month and the final third for the low-end market rate of $875.
The housing units are expected to be occupied by December of next year, the group's lawyer said. The lawyer, Mike Walker, said that the housing group stands to lose $1.3 million in grants if the project doesn't start within weeks.
Walker said two donors will walk away if ground isn't broken on the project. Court records obtained by CTV News show the donors are a German foundation -- which the group said it could not name -- and the regional government of Metro Vancouver.
The local government donation is part of a federal program designed to combat homelessness, and the rules are that the funding will be pulled if Lu'ma doesn't spend its money by the end of the fiscal year.
Pivot lawyer DJ Larkin said a program designed to counter homelessness shouldn't be behind a push to put people on the street.
"For Metro Vancouver to step in and threaten funding when the people who are living there don't have safe alternatives is really offensive," Larkin said.
As of Friday afternoon, the trespass notice was not being enforced by police, but Lu'ma's lawyer said the group plans to apply for an injunction to clear the lot. People could also be charged for violating the trespassing act.
Those living there said they have nowhere to go.
"We built a home here. We feel safe here. We've met lots of friends here, family here, and now they've given us notice that we have to leave… it's depressing," said resident Joyce Jackson, who has lived at the camp since it popped up in April.
Another member of Jackson's community of about 50 people, Kieran Collins, said those living on the lot are using the land respectfully. Garbage is disposed of appropriately, and residents find facilities if they need to use a washroom. They've also been complying with instructions from the fire marshal, residents said.
"We live like human beings even though we're living in tents outside," Collins said.
Resident Crystal Cardinal said she felt the Lu'ma lease was an example of city staff trying to "wash their hands" of the ongoing fight to clear the lot.
"We voiced our concerns that we do need housing too and it just wasn't addressed," she said.
"I am going to be trying to fight as much as we can. I don't know how much we can have as a fight, but it's worth a try."
Cardinal said those living in the tent city are trying to come up with a plan. They had such short notice that they don't have a strategy yet, but they want to work toward a solution that will make sure everyone has safe housing.
Lu'ma has arranged shelter spaces for the people living at the camp, but many said they felt safer at the camp than in shelters, where their possessions may be stolen. They added that it can be difficult to find other alternatives, like affordable single-room occupancy (SRO) housing, especially in the wake of the Balmoral Hotel closure.
Advocate Maria Wallstam said the tent city is providing residents what the government is not: "shelter, stability and security."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Breanna Karstens-Smith and Jon Woodward