Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, has issued the following statement regarding tent encampments in Victoria and Vancouver:
“This is a challenging time for everyone in British Columbia, especially those facing homelessness. Early in the pandemic it became clear that COVID-19, coupled with the ongoing overdose crisis, has created significant health and safety concerns for our province’s vulnerable people living in encampments, the professionals and volunteers that support these groups and the communities we all share.
“On April 25, 2020, the Province took the necessary steps to support people’s transition from unsafe, dense encampments in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver, and Topaz Park and the Pandora corridor in Victoria, into safer, temporary accommodation as a first step toward more secure housing.
“Action needed to be taken for the health, safety and well-being of campers, and the front-line workers who support them. For those who were living in encampments, the wraparound health and other supports our government is providing will drive lasting, positive change for many individuals fighting hardship or addiction. The co-operation between the Province and the cities of Victoria and Vancouver, and the compassionate approach of BC Housing, service providers and the health authorities, has been remarkable.
“From the beginning, we committed to a compassionate, supportive approach, putting people’s housing and support needs first, to manage this transition. I’m encouraged our approach has been working. As of May 7, at 4 p.m., over 320 people have moved into safe, temporary accommodations in both Vancouver and Victoria, with wraparound supports to protect their health and safety.
“We have worked to ensure those who were living in Oppenheimer Park are moving into safe, temporary accommodations with wraparound supports by May 9.
“While we have been working with the hotel sector and service delivery partners toward the May 9 target in Victoria, it is now clear that more time is needed to ensure each person leaving Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue is moved into the accommodation that best meets their needs.
“To this end, the Province, in consultation with the City of Victoria, has extended the deadline from May 9 to May 20, 2020, to move people from Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue into safe, temporary accommodations. No one will be asked to leave these encampments without being offered a suitable temporary housing option.
“The Province is also developing plans for longer term permanent housing solutions for this population, with ongoing supports. These plans will build on the 23,000 homes already underway or complete through our 10-year housing plan and will include strategies to provide the right combination of housing and supports to mitigate the chances of a return to homelessness. That work will continue in the weeks and months ahead, but the priority now is on the immediate health and safety of people experiencing homelessness in these public health emergencies.
“Homelessness and affordable housing continue to be concerns throughout British Columbia. People and communities are suffering as a result. Over the last few years, we have taken urgent action to provide supportive housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness throughout the province, opening more than 2,100 new supportive homes for people experiencing homelessness with a further 900 underway around the province, toward a goal of 4,900 over 10 years. This includes 21 units nearing completion in Victoria and 784 complete in Vancouver.
“We knew this would be a challenging transition for people, but I am proud of the significant steps we have taken to provide safer and more secure options for people. While this pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge, it is heartening to know that hundreds of people, and the communities they inhabit, will be healthier and safer through this initiative.”
For daily updates on the number of people being moved from the encampments, visit: https://twitter.com/bc_housing