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Advocates demand B.C. moratorium on evicting homeless campers until May

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With winter approaching, there are calls for the B.C. government to impose a seasonal moratorium on evicting homeless campers from their tents – something advocates describe as inhumane and unnecessary.

Groups including Stop the Sweeps have urged the province to amend community charters to prohibit cities from evicting campers until May 31, when the weather improves and there are fewer safety concerns sending people outside.

In Vancouver, park rangers are currently attending CRAB Park and Oppenheimer Park daily to enforce a city bylaw requiring most campers to take down their tents every morning.

For vulnerable residents with nowhere else to go, being forced into the cold over and over again takes a toll, particularly when they have to pack up and carry away all of their belongings.

Clint Randen, a 48-year-old living in CRAB Park, said he's been woken up and told to move along as early as 6 a.m.

"You don't get any sleep as it is," said Randen. "Now you're expected to pack your things, carry it around like a snail, and then get a job? It's absolutely ridiculous."

MORE ENFORCEMENT AS TEMPERATURES DROP

Multiple court rulings have upheld the Charter rights of homeless people to camp overnight in public spaces when there isn't suitable housing available, and a B.C. Supreme Court decision issued in January 2022 designated a section of CRAB Park where people can legally camp 24 hours a day.

But with a growing homeless population in the park – and across Metro Vancouver in general – tents have spilled over into non-protected areas.

Last month, the city began increasing enforcement of its bylaws in those areas, something intended to "support daytime access (for) all park users," the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation said in a statement.

"This is not a decampment. We’re not asking people to leave, we’re asking for people to comply with the bylaw," the statement added.

STRUGGLES TO RETRIEVE BELONGINGS

Officials have also promised to help store campers' belongings for them, though advocates have reported a host of issues retrieving those possessions.

A log of attempts to do so, shared with CTV News, includes numerous unsuccessful efforts to track down items, including tents used for shelter.

After repeated attempts to retrieve their things, some homeless residents said they were ultimately told their belongings were gone.

"They're pretty much just taking my stuff away and just throwing it away," said Larry Cocksedge, 46, who also lives in CRAB Park. "I just don't understand how they think they can get away with that."

Fiona York, an advocate for CRAB Park residents, said the city will sometimes ask homeless residents to meet staff at another location, such as a community policing office, to collect their things.

"That requires a vehicle and transportation to pick things up," York said. "So there's multiple barriers and obstacles."

In a statement, the City of Vancouver said rangers only proactively remove items considered "abandoned," and never those that are "clearly personal belongings."

"Storage options are available for personal belongings and people have 30 days to pick up any impounded items or have them delivered … to a building address, such as a designated location at a housing facility or residential address," the statement added.

Asked to respond to those assertions, York said: "I don't even know how to start."

"Our volunteers and advocates have tried really hard to recover belongings," she said. "It's well-documented."

NO SUPPORT FOR MORATORIUM 

The Ministry of Housing did not respond when asked whether the B.C. government would consider imposing a moratorium on late-fall and winter evictions.

Instead, the ministry issued a statement pointing to ongoing efforts to increase shelter spaces across the province.

"We understand the urgent need for shelter spaces, especially during the winter months," the ministry said, adding that BC Housing funds upwards of 5,200 such spaces across 50 communities.

That number includes permanent, temporary and extreme weather response shelters.

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