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