Separated by nearly 800 kilometers, residents of a homeless camp in Vancouver celebrate a BC Supreme Court ruling in Prince George that allows a large camp to remain.
“It’s really incredible,” said Fiona York, a community organizer and advocate for the camp at Vancouver’s CRAB Park.
“It is very encouraging to see this happen and we are very happy and hopeful and happy and in solidarity with our friends in Prince George.”
On October 22, the Honorable Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson ruled that the homeless camp in Prince George, also known as the Moccasin Flats, be allowed to remain due to a lack of suitable alternatives for residents to move to.
The decision comes after the city in August issued an order to dismantle two tent cities, including Moccasin Flats, and another located closer to the center’s core, called Splits.
It sparked outrage from proponents who said the injunction would leave nearly 75 residents, most of whom are natives, thrown out without adequate housing options.
In a press release, CRAB Park residents call the ruling a “landmark victory.”
York says it is not often that a decision is made in favor of allowing camps. She said residents were thrown out of a parking lot in CRAB Park in 2020 when an injunction was issued by the Vancouver Port Authority.
“[Residents are often] scattered, and people do not have a place to go, or they are scattered in such a way that it is not dignified, it is not respectful … And then we have here a decision that actually responds to this municipal push for to disperse people from the park, “she said.
In the spring, BC Housing says its workers visited camps in Vancouver, such as the one in Strathcona Park, to relocate residents to new homes and shelter spaces along with help from the city.
Housing Minister David Eby said many of the relocations are temporary as new units with supportive housing are being built.
While proponents acknowledge that it is right to move people into housing, some argue that the process should have been handled differently with more consultation with camp residents.
Still, York hopes the Prince George ruling sets a precedent for future lawsuits to settle homeless camps.
Prince George’s lawyer says the decision is “a step too far”
While legal advisers to the town of Prince George agree that this decision is precedent-setting, they say it is a breach that will be a problem in future cases.
“I believe, in a continuum of these cases, that we have honestly gone a step too far, a tent too far, a bridge too far,” said Troy DeSouza, managing partner of Dominion GovLaw LLP and Council of the City of Prince . George.
Prior to the decision, DeSouza said those without a home are allowed to build temporary shelters at locations approved by the municipality, provided they are taken down the next day.
This case extends the legal protection, he says, and allows those experiencing homelessness to stay in the daytime as well as camp overnight.
“In this case, there is a difference that has taken a development in these tent fee cases, which now have this requirement for adequate housing and daytime facilities, which has never been a consideration,” he said.
“I think a precedent has been set, and certainly, I think, from a practical point of view, it would be very difficult for the people, for the level of government responsible for housing … to decide what “Exactly is appropriate housing, right? For it can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.”
For now, York says she hopes this case will result in fewer barriers for homeless camps like the one at CRAB Park, but acknowledges that much work remains to be done to secure the rights of those experiencing homelessness.