Judge de­nies city ap­pli­ca­tion to eject homeless

The Province - - NEWS - KEITH FRASER kfraser@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/kei­thrfraser

A judge has de­nied the City of Vancouver an in­junc­tion to re­move a homeless en­camp­ment on a city­owned lot on Main Street that has been va­cant for nearly 20 years.

In a rul­ing re­leased Wed­nes­day, B.C. Supreme Court Jus­tice Neena Sharma said that the city had not met the le­gal test for an in­junc­tion, in­clud­ing a re­quire­ment that it prove that it would suf­fer “ir­repara­ble harm” if the court or­der was not granted.

She noted that the oc­cu­pants of the tent city at 950 Main had per­sua­sively ar­gued that their safety would be jeop­ar­dized if they had to leave.

A lawyer for the city had told the judge that there was an ur­gent need for the roughly 50 homeless peo­ple to va­cate the site be­cause there was a risk that a so­cial-hous­ing project planned for the lot would lose fund­ing. Iain Dixon said that a sig­nif­i­cant amount of fund­ing would be jeop­ar­dized if the de­vel­op­ment, which would see 26 units of so­cial hous­ing built, did not go ahead.

But the judge said she did not have suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence of the ur­gency and noted that there was no in­di­ca­tion that dates on a time­line for the project were in­flex­i­ble. Sharma said that while every­one can agree that so­cial hous­ing is im­por­tant, the oc­cu­pants of the site had pointed out that the tent city was prefer­able to what­ever might be planned for the site.

On April 28, a locked chain-link fence was breached at the un­oc­cu­pied city lot on Main and a num­ber of peo­ple en­tered the site to es­tab­lish the tent city.

Dixon ear­lier told the judge that other homeless camps have been set up around the prov­ince that have re­sulted in a num­ber of court cases and noted that in cases in which the City of Vancouver has had to deal with a homeless tent city in the past, the city had waited un­til a protest site had be­come un­safe be­fore seek­ing an in­junc­tion. “This is dif­fer­ent be­cause this is an ac­tive de­vel­op­ment site and we are try­ing to build so­cial hous­ing for dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple.”

Dixon added that the site, which has about 30 tents and other struc­tures, has not rep­re­sented a sig­nif­i­cant safety is­sue, but the city needs to gain ac­cess to do an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment be­fore con­struc­tion can be­gin.

Maria Wall­stam, a homeless ad­vo­cate who is a mem­ber of Al­liance Against Dis­place­ment, told the judge that the site was a safe lo­ca­tion for peo­ple and that a court or­der to dis­man­tle the tent city would com­pro­mise their safety. She said that there was a “des­per­ate” need for hous­ing for homeless peo­ple and added that the tent city had had to turn away a dozen peo­ple ev­ery day since it was set up.

Wall­stam told the judge that while the so­cial-hous­ing project was not in­signif­i­cant, it would only re­sult in eight homeless peo­ple qual­i­fy­ing for shel­ter at the lo­ca­tion. She said that there were “im­mense” men­tal health ben­e­fits for peo­ple on the site and if they were forced to leave, they’d be back liv­ing in al­leys and faced with threats to their well-be­ing, in­clud­ing vi­o­lence.

ARLEN REDEKOP/PNG FILES

Homeless ad­vo­cate Maria Wall­stam told B.C. Supreme Court Jus­tice Neena Sharma the tent city was safe and that its dis­man­tling would com­pro­mise safety.

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