Park rangers supported by Vancouver police were back at CRAB Park on Tuesday, stepping up enforcement of bylaws that bar long-term sheltering outside of a specified area.
A northern section of the park, located on the waterfront between the Port of Vancouver and Canada Place, has been a de-facto sanctioned tent city since a January 2022 court ruling.
But the city’s Park Control Bylaw — which permits overnight sheltering, but requires tents to be packed up in the morning — remains in effect for the rest of the park.
In recent weeks, rangers have stepped up warnings to people who have been increasingly sheltering long-term in a southern area of the park, and on Tuesday the Park Board said it had begun carrying out enforcement.
“This is not a decampment. We’re not asking people to leave, we’re asking for people to comply with the by-law,” the Vancouver Park Board said in an email to Global News.
“Park Rangers will be prepared to remove non-essential items and store essential items for people sheltering in the park.”
James Thompson and Robert Bruvold were among those being told to pack up and move along on Tuesday. The pair said they weren’t sure what their next step was.
“It takes all of your energy just to exist, let alone get one foot ahead of the other and take a step or two,” Bruvold said.
Thompson said the duo had been in the park for several months, after the city towed an RV they were living in, and whose impound fees they couldn’t afford in order to get it back.
“The city just kind of hounded us from place to place, and we lost everything — our RV, I think we’re still making payments even, and we didn’t even have money for proper medication, food, anything,” he said.
“We were told to come here from Strathcona. And promptly we were, our generator and one of my scooters was taken by one of the residents here, so we left the legal part (of the park).”
City staff took down a number of tarps and tents, several of which were empty and others which were too large or too close together to meet fire prevention regulations.
Officials also seized a variety of allegedly stolen property and drug paraphernalia.
The city said its Homelessness Outreach Team continues to attend the park offering support for people sheltering there, and that it is working with partners to try and link residents with shelter spaces as they become available.
Bruvold and Thompson said they’ve spoken with city representatives about housing, who seem sincere, but that nothing has ever materialized.
“But not a lot happens,” Bruvold said. “Everybody is sympathetic, everybody is nice, and everybody is doing their job but it doesn’t result in any (housing).”
The B.C. Supreme Court ruling protecting the sanctioned encampment area of the park hinged on a finding that the city could not displace people sheltering on site while adequate sheltering alternatives were not available.
Last month, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the province had made progress in finding housing for people living in the encampment, but was unable to offer a timeline for it to be shut down.
However, advocates say the situation on the ground is worse than ever. Earlier this month, a coalition of advocacy groups issued an urgent call for more shelter and housing options ahead of winter — arguing there were 2,000 unhoused people in the Downtown Eastside alone, but just 1,500 shelter beds in the region.
Metro Vancouver’s latest homeless count identified more than 4,800 unhoused people in the region, up 32 per cent from 2020.
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