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Group asks Vancouver for more time over Crab Park homeless site cleanup

VANCOUVER — An advocacy group and others are making a final plea to the City of Vancouver to hold off on its second phase of a plan to clean up the site of a homeless camp in Crab Park.
Tents and people are seen at a homeless encampment at Crab Park below the towers of the downtown skyline in Vancouver on Aug. 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — An advocacy group and others are making a final plea to the City of Vancouver to hold off on its second phase of a plan to clean up the site of a homeless camp in Crab Park. 

The group called Stop the Sweeps and residents of the encampment oppose the move, saying they're being offered small, fenced pens to live in while the city bulldozes their community, which includes a warming tent and kitchen.

An open letter that was sent to the city on Friday was signed by 450 individuals and groups, and says if the 40 tents at the site are moved it will be replaced by a managed tent city where no new residents will be allowed to live. It instead calls on the city not to destroy any structures and to allow park residents lead the cleanup themselves. 

Vancouver officials announced earlier this month that dozens of homeless people staying in the city's only legal encampment would have to temporarily move because the site had become unsafe and unhygienic.

Vancouver's deputy city manager Sandra Singh said the plan to shut down the section of park designated for the encampment this week will allow equipment to be brought in to clean piles of debris and unsafe structures.

Vancouver Park Board general manager Steve Jackson said Monday that the plan will go ahead as it follows about four weeks of consultations. 

"The cleanup and compliance process is now underway to ensure that those sheltering in the park have a cleaner and safer daytime area and that the area is better positioned to meet health and safety standards going forward," he said in a statement.

"We are asking all people remaining in the designated area to leave today while we ready the workzone for the upcoming work."

Jackson said that as of 9 a.m., about five people who were sheltering in the area had remained, down from about 30.

Residents living in the park have previously said discussions around leaving their homes should wait until a human rights complaint is heard that alleges they are not being provided with basic needs such as washrooms and electricity.

The federal housing advocate also took to social media Friday to call for a "pause" on the cleanup, urging the Park Board to "work in good faith with encampment residents on an approach that upholds their dignity, protects their belongings, and respects their security and human rights."

Marie-Josee Houle said she also shared her report, which was released last month and called for a national response for people living in homeless encampments, with the board.

"People living in encampments must play a leading role in decisions that affect them," she said in a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Crab Park encampment began in 2021 and remained in place a year later when a B.C. Supreme Court judge set aside eviction notices in part because the city didn't have enough indoor shelter spaces to accommodate those living in tents.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2024.

The Canadian Press