Opinion: Dismantling tent cities only a short-term solution

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By Alyse Kotyk

Last week the City of Vancouver dismantled a tent city at Thornton Park after it moved from its previous location at 58 West Hastings. Both tent cities were declared unsafe and a health risk and residents were encouraged to relocate to an emergency shelter.

This story isn’t new: Victoria’s tent city battled for a year before being shut down by the province in August while other tent cities have popped up and been shut down in Chilliwack, Langley, Burnaby and Maple Ridge.

Relocating won’t solve the problem

The problem is, forcibly removing tenters and ordering them to relocate to emergency shelters isn’t a long-term solution. Not only are cold weather, emergency shelters often full, but they are extremely expensive to operate. A Victoria-based study estimates that the annual operating cost of a shelter bed is $31,032 — primarily due to the specialized nature of facilities provided in a shelter like kitchens and common spaces — while a bachelor unit costs approximately $21,957 annually to operate.

Not only are they expensive, but emergency shelters can also be unstable — many individuals are only allowed a limited number of nights that they can stay and some have strict requirements to participate in programming and no privacy in dorm-style rooms. For some of Vancouver’s homeless, living in a tent city with a degree of autonomy is preferable to abiding by these living arrangements.

Long-term solution needed

While I don’t wish anyone a night out in the cold and in an unsafe environment, the provincial and municipal governments need to consider making room for authorized tent cities for those who prefer them as a living option. Then the focus can steer away from funding short-term shelters to finding long-term housing solutions.

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