News flash: The Strathcona Park homeless camp will still be in place at Christmas.
In fact, it will probably remain for many weeks, maybe months despite what you may have heard or read Monday about the city and park board working to clear the encampment and find 200 or so campers some shelter.
That conclusion is based on a few observations and some inside knowledge of the situation.
The first being that nothing has changed since Mayor Kennedy Stewart told me Nov. 10 that city staff was close to securing hotels, rental buildings and shelter space to provide accommodation for some of the estimated 750 people living on the street, including those in Strathcona Park.
Those negotiations continue.
The second being the city hasn’t finalized any deals with the federal government on a promised $51.5 million to be used for the construction of modular housing, as well as the acquisition of land and the conversion of existing buildings to affordable housing.
The third being the city and provincial government are still discussing whether money to operate new housing and shelters will be provided. I understand David Eby, the minister now responsible for housing, was to meet with the mayor Monday.
In other words, negotiations continue.
The only real news us media types heard Monday — and that my colleague Dan Fumano at the Vancouver Sun first uncovered — is that park board commissioners have given the board’s general manager, Donnie Rosa, the authority to seek an injunction to clear the park.
Even so, Rosa made it clear at a news conference Monday that an injunction will not be sought anytime soon, with the “decampment” plan having to go sideways before a trip to court would be required.
The plan first hinges on accommodations being in place. Then the hope is campers will voluntarily leave the park, with assistance from outreach teams with expertise in working with homeless people.
If offering and cajoling doesn’t work, then the park board has a newly revised “parks control bylaw” that it could use, although it likely won’t do much good because it doesn’t have the power of an injunction.
In fact, the bylaw respects a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that allows camping overnight in a park, as long as campers dismantle their tents or structure by 8 a.m. the next day.
The bylaw also gives latitude to Rosa’s park rangers to allow a person to temporarily remain in a park — in some circumstances — past 8 a.m., which further complicates the goal of moving people inside.
To sum up, Strathcona Park isn’t going to be cleared anytime soon
The city said as much in a statement I received Monday that read:
“Once established, large encampments require a more comprehensive, collaborative, and coordinated approach to support the decampment process and ensure that suitable indoor spaces are made available. The board recognizes that without providing alternative shelter options, clearing one park may result in relocation to another park or public space, and our goal remains to collaboratively end the encampment by providing indoor spaces for those currently experiencing homelessness and sleeping in the park.”
The other piece of news is that the 2400 Motel and Jericho Hostel will likely not be used to house homeless people from Strathcona Park. They will instead be opened up for people who require less support for issues related to mental illness and addiction.
That was made clear by Sandra Singh, the city’s general manager of community services, who joined Rosa at the same virtual news conference, which was called after the park board sent out a news release with this headline: “Vancouver Park Board and City committed to ending encampment, providing indoor shelter, for those sleeping in Strathcona Park.”
Of course they’re committed — just like they’ve always been.
So what’s new?
Reporters logged out of the conference knowing not much more than when we first logged in.
No timelines were given when or if the park would be cleared and no hotels or shelters were identified under the decampment plan.
Where was Eby?
Where was Ahmed Hussen, the federal minister responsible for housing?
Where was the mayor?
They all took a pass because there was nothing to announce, except that everyone is working on it.
The city’s homeless, meanwhile, may have been given some false hope.
Which is not a good thing at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas.