Violence erupts at Vancouver homeless camp on deadline day
Published Friday, December 15, 2017 8:25AM PST Last Updated Friday, December 15, 2017 2:11PM PST
Violence broke out at a Vancouver homeless encampment Friday morning as the deadline approached for residents to move out.
Those living at a camp they've deemed "Sugar Mountain," due to its proximity to the Rogers sugar refinery, were given until noon to vacate the city-owned lot.
But as the deadline approached, occupants said they had no intention of leaving, and planned to stand their ground if police were brought in.
Tensions were running high during a news conference held about an hour before the deadline, when a man on a bike riding past the area loudly complained about some people living on the lot.
The cyclist alleged that people staying in tents in the camp were responsible for bike thieves in the area.
Several bikes and bike parts were visible Friday morning, piled high on a rack and in a shopping cart at the encampment. A partially dismantled scooter was also seen on the property. A woman outside the camp told the cyclist that police had recently visited and checked the serial numbers of the bicycles.
Others approached the cyclist, who agreed that there is a need for solutions to poverty, but continued his argument about connections between the encampment and property crime.
As the argument with advocates and residents got heated, a man started to push the cyclist away. The biker and those gathered around him started shouting at each other.
The cyclist and another advocate then became engaged in an argument. That exchange quickly escalated to the two men swearing at each other with their faces centimetres apart, before the advocate placed his hands near the cyclist's throat and shoved him away, knocking him off his bike and down onto the road.
The shouting continued for several more minutes before the cyclist left the area. He appeared uninjured.
The confrontation derailed the news conference which was supposed to be about why a handful of people are refusing to leave the site. Advocates speaking on behalf of residents said shelter space being offered to them is inadequate, and comes with too many rules.
"We want housing, not warehousing," spokesperson JJ Riach told reporters.
The tent city was erected about six months ago, after officials pushed residents out of another encampment on Main Street.
The camp has been controversial, and residents said last month police and firefighters came through the area slashing tents and threatening to make arrests. Last week, firefighters returned after a tent caught fire.
The city said the Friday deadline was chosen because they need time to prepare the site for future use. However, staff said later that the city doesn't plan on seeking an injunction until the new year, and that likely no action would be taken at Sugar Mountain until then.
In a statement, a spokesperson said city outreach teams were at the lot last Friday to ask residents to move into a shelter where space was being held for them. The shelter welcomes couples and pets, and has space to store belongings, communications manager Lauren Stasila said.
So far, alternative housing options have been secured for a dozen people living on Franklin Street, and another 18 have accepted shelter beds. She said the city estimates approximately six people are still living on the site, and there is shelter space available for them.
The lots at 1115, 1131 and 1141 Franklin St. have been earmarked for a different type of homeless housing. The city plans to erect a 50-unit modular housing complex spanning the properties, which will be used for temporary housing of those living on the street and at risk of homelessness.
The housing complexes are made up of easily-built modules that can be relocated and configured to fit a range of sites. City staff plan to erect the buildings on sites that are vacant while waiting to be developed for a period of about five years, with the option to extend their use if needed.
"Temporary modular housing is quicker to construct than a traditional building and will serve the immediate need to get the city's homeless residents into a safe, warm home as quickly as possible," Stasila said.
According to Riach, some of the people he represents are looking for modular housing -- he called on the province to open 10,000 units "immediately."
However, some tent city residents were still saying Friday that they'd fight the eviction, despite the city's plan to open modular units on the site in the next year.
A similar building is already in use at 220 Terminal Ave., and a development permit has been approved for a lot at 650 West 57th Ave.
The city is seeking a permit for 4410 Kaslo St. and is considering another modular building at 501 Powell St.
Some of the lots selected by the city have proved so controversial that the B.C. Supreme Court has had to intervene. The Marpole project was so contested that a judge had to order protesters to leave the lot, which is located near three public schools.
Extra security was brought in to a meeting earlier this week for the Kaslo Street property, though the debate at Wednesday's information session did not get as heated as the ongoing talks about West 57th.