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Activists defy city order and stay at Downtown Eastside tent camp

Despite a city order that requires the site to be cleared, nobody at a Downtown Eastside tent encampment was packing up yesterday.

Signs posted at the site said residents would be prepared to move by noon Wednesday.

Housing activists moved on to the site - a vacant property owned by developer Concord Pacific and leased to the Vancouver Organizing Committee during the Olympics - on Feb. 15 to highlight homelessness and housing issues during the Games. Police and city staff monitored the site but did not ask the group to move.

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"The landscape's different since it started," said Diane Claveau, who added she has been living at the site for three weeks.

"After the Olympics, a whole bunch of organizations left, community organizations, the larger ones. We had a kitchen tent over there, a medic tent set up over there, another fire over at that end. We're down to one side now."

Last week, the city sent an order to Concord, saying the vacant site was violating the city's zoning and development bylaw and ordering "all structures and materials" to be removed by March 26.

Since the order was issued, city staff have been negotiating with the protesters in an attempt to ensure an orderly dismantling of the site and find housing or shelter for those who remain on the property.

In the meantime, the clock is ticking on funding for emergency shelters that together put a roof over more than 500 people a night, including some who have migrated to the tent city.

Some of the people at the tent site are people who have been evicted from shelters or apartments over behavioural, mental health or addiction issues that can't be solved simply by putting a roof over someone's head, First United minister Ric Matthews said yesterday.

"People who have been evicted from a shelter or from an apartment have issues other than housing," said Mr. Matthews, adding that some people have drifted to the tent city from First United, which typically provides shelter to between 200 and 300 people a night.

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First United was among a group of five shelters opened by Mayor Gregor Robertson's Homeless Emergency Action Team (Heat) in December of 2008.

The shelters have been running at capacity since they opened. Last June, the province extended funding for several Heat shelters, including First United, until April 30, 2010.

It is "inconceivable" that the shelters not operate, Mr. Matthews said.

"The tent city - the people there, some of them, are people who have come out of shelters. These people have nowhere else to go," he said.

A spokesman for the provincial housing ministry yesterday said Heat shelters "would be phased out by the end of April, 2010."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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