Heavy machinery was at the site of a homeless encampment at the Vancouver foot of the Oak Street Bridge on Friday, as crews worked to enforce an order clearing people who were sheltering there.
Contractors hired by the province removed piles of refuse and several propane tanks, amid protests from housing activists.
“This housing crisis was not caused by unhoused people and it’s time to stop punishing unhoused people for existing and for this housing crisis,” Ryan Sudds, an organizer with Stop the Sweeps, told media.
The land in question is owned by the Ministry of Transportation, which issued a trespass notice to encampment residents dated Monday last week.
Citing “serious safety issues,” the notice orders people to leave the site and remove their property by Jan. 31, or potentially risk arrest.
Days later, on Saturday night, a fire broke out in the encampment, leaving a 46-year-old woman being treated for smoke inhalation.
At the time of the fire, about half a dozen people were living in the camp, but by Friday that number had been reduced to just two.
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An encampment resident, who gave his name only as Justin and who has been living in a hand-built shelter on the site for about seven months, said he does not want to leave and has nowhere to put his belongings.
“The ministry has come here and said we could go to a shelter. I’ve been in the Yukon shelter before,” he said.
“It’s tough. There’s a lot of stealing and a lot of politics happening in the shelters. Having more than just a backpack really is not accessible.”
Sudds alleged that encampment residents were not aware of the trespass order until this Monday, and should be given more time.
“Effectively people were given three days’ notice before their lives and their homes became criminalized by the provincial government,” he said.
“That puts people at a great, great risk.”
The move comes amid a string of recent efforts to remove entrenched encampments across the Lower Mainland.
On Thursday, residents of a years-old RV encampment in Chilliwack were evicted to make way for future dike construction.
Following its controversial move to clear a massive encampment on East Hastings Street last year, the City of Vancouver has conducted sustained enforcement of its parks bylaw in parts of CRAB Park and has been conducting near-daily enforcement in Oppenheimer Park.
Speaking at an unrelated event on Friday, Premier David Eby said the province was putting “historic” resources into new housing and was prioritizing indoor spaces for homeless people to shelter.
“If someone is outside and they have nowhere else to go, then it is inappropriate to just be moving people over and over and over again.,” he said.
“However, encampments are not safe. They are not a safe place to live. People die in fires. In the encampments along Hastings, 100 per cent of the women surveyed in that encampment reported being assaulted.”
Back on Oak Street, Justin said he is taking a a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t want to get charged with trespassing,” he said.
“If they force that hand then I will just have to slowly get (my stuff) out of here and I don’t know, maybe find another park to do this again. I don’t know what to do.”
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