Lack of suitable housing options, city cannot evict tempters: Court

The decision comes after a pair of CRAB Park tentpoles challenged eviction orders from the Vancouver park board

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Residents of a camp in Vancouver say they are reluctant to celebrate the B.C. Supreme Court’s refusal to grant the Vancouver Park Board an injunction that would have allowed it to evacuate the dozens of people living in tents at CRAB Park.

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“When I first heard Thursday’s judgment, I felt happy,” said David Nelson, who has lived in the camp at the southwest corner of the park for three months. “However, I am now scared because I know this problem is not going away. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring.

Thursday’s decision came after Kerry Bamberger and Jason Heber asked the Supreme Court for judicial review of park council orders of July 8 and September 7 to clean up part of the park it said had been damaged. by tents and forbidding people to shelter there. during the day.

With the pro bono assistance of three Vancouver lawyers, Bamberger and Hebert argued that the park board had failed to prove that “suitable” indoor shelter was available for campers, as it claimed in the two prescriptions.

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“The mere assumption that those sheltering in CRAB Park can find ‘somewhere else to go,’ does not give the necessary priority to their rights and ensures minimal impairment of those rights,” the judge wrote. Matthew Kirchner in his decision.

“It was the responsibility of the Chief Executive to ensure that the closure of the last major public park in or near the sheltered Downtown Eastside for the night would not impair the ability of petitioners to access services and other facilities. what they need to survive.

The judge denied the park board’s injunction requests and granted Bamberger and Herbert’s application for judicial review.

The ruling sets a precedent for homeless people in Vancouver, said attorney Julia Riddle, who served as legal counsel in the case.

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“When we surveyed people in the park, a majority told us they just had nowhere to go,” Riddle said. “Some mentioned waiting hours for beds at a shelter that was eventually filled to capacity.”

Historically, the CRAB Park Tempters, who are among 2,095 people in Vancouver who identify as homeless, have found no mercy in the courts. In 2020, groups were evicted from the CRAB Park parking lot after a BC Supreme Court judge granted an eviction order to the Port of Vancouver. Last year, the tent cities of Oppenheimer and Strathcona parks were disbanded.

However, I n October, a landmark BC Supreme Court ruling denied a request by the City of Prince George to enforce tent city evictions, ruling there were no suitable housing options for residents. Weeks later, city crews demolished camp structures they believed to be unused.

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The fear among CRAB Park residents is that a similar fate could see them stripped of their makeshift homes.

“We’re worried that a bulldozer will come by any day, like it did in Prince George,” Nelson said.

Kirchner’s decision found that the park board’s argument that the encampment posed a risk to public safety was unfounded.

“Right now I see at least half a dozen with dogs walking around the CRAB park and kids using the playground equipment, people feel safe enough to be here with us,” said the 29-year-old.

Kirchner also concluded that residents of the encampment were not given adequate notice before the eviction orders were issued.

“These people are entitled to be informed and to be heard because their rights, privileges or interests are uniquely affected,” the judge wrote.

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Still, the city could reapply to get rid of the camp once it feels it can provide sufficient evidence to prove that people living in CRAB Park could be housed elsewhere or even sooner if conditions change significantly. of camp.

In a statement, the park board said it was considering “a range of options” to prevent camping in Vancouver parks, noting it was responsible for “enforcing regulations where suitable spaces are available. so that people can move inside”.

“Our primary focus will continue to work to support people sleeping in CRAB Park by helping them connect to indoor spaces and other services they need to get back on their feet,” he said in an email. mail.

Drew Hirschpold, who lived in the camp before he was enrolled in a BC Housing program, says he still goes to CRAB Park for meals.

“They only feed us once a day at the Holiday Inn. It’s just not enough food,” the 43-year-old said. “At the camp, people from the community donate enough clothes and food for all of us, we share. We make sure everyone has what they need.

sgrochowski@postmedia.com

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