The City of Vancouver's legal effort to clear what's left of a homeless encampment on West Hastings Street has been delayed by two weeks to allow remaining campers to find legal counsel.
The city applied for an injunction on Wednesday, citing the deteriorating conditions of the four-month-old camp on a city-owned lot near West Hastings and Abbott streets. The matter was adjourned on Thursday until Nov. 14.
At its peak, roughly 50 tents filled the lot. The city distributed notices on Oct. 21 requiring all campers vacate by Oct. 25; some were helped by city staff into local shelters while others chose to go elsewhere.
Deputy city manager Paul Mochrie said the city has grown concerned with the safety and sanitary conditions of the site.
"Sharps, the amount of garbage, rodents, human waste – that's a real concern," Mr. Mochrie said.
"The fire department has issued two different orders to the encampment around the use of open flames and heating devices. We're continuing to see in those tents propane heaters – in some cases 20- and 50-pound propane tanks – and those are very significant fire risks, particularly when you have tents clustered together."
Police are also concerned about drug dealing and assaults at the site, he said.
On Thursday, fewer than 10 campers remained, their tents pitched among piles of trash on soil made muddy by the heavy fall rain. The remaining campers blame the city for scaring others off with the eviction notice and then pointing to the debris left behind as signs of deteriorating conditions.
"They made it look like it's our fault it's like this now," said Misha Ball, who has camped at the site with her partner since August. "They're the reason why it's so disgusting here. Everybody kept it pretty clean [before], for the most part."
Maria Wallstam, an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project, noted some people feel safe staying at the encampment.
"It's been raining for almost 30 consecutive days and, despite that, people have chosen to stay here instead of going into the streets and into the shelters," she said. "I think that really speaks to how bad the housing situation is right now."
The city announced last month that its Affordable Housing Agency will partner with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and Vancouver Coastal Health to build a facility with 250 units of affordable housing and a 55,000-square-foot integrated health centre on the current site of the encampment. At present, that group is able to deliver half of the units at subsidized rates; it is hoping to solicit contributions from senior levels of government and other partners to subsidize the remaining half.
The last Vancouver Homeless Count, in March, found 1,847 people on the streets and in shelters – the highest number since the count began in 2005.
In recent years, homeless encampments have also sprung up in cities including Victoria, Surrey and Abbotsford.
"This is definitely a metro problem," Mr. Mochrie said. "We're talking with our counterparts in other local governments about the impacts and issues they're facing, and trying to provide adequate housing. But the housing crisis is [an issue] everybody is wrestling with in the Lower Mainland, and this is one impact that we're seeing."
Melanie Mark, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, called on the B.C. government to take action on the issue of affordable housing.
"Tent cities, whether they're in Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Abbotsford or Victoria, show us how desperate the situation for affordable housing has become under this government," Ms. Mark said in a statement issued Thursday. "How many tent cities do municipalities have to dismantle before the Christy Clark government makes a real plan for affordable housing? Temporary shelters are not homes and they cost this province much more in the long term."