Shelters nearing capacity after tear down of tent city

Additional shelters are opening in Vancouver due to the cold weather

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By ALY GLENN

Since the removal of a campsite in South Vancouver, nearby shelters have seen an increase in people seeking refuge from the weather.

A small community of campers had set up an encampment near the Oak Street Bridge for months. Police removed the camp in February following a trespassing order from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. There were also safety concerns after a fire at the site. Additionally, some residents had reported people from the tents were dangerously jaywalking across Southwest Marine Drive and following them as they walked by.

Recently, mainly due to cold weather, the Lookout Housing and Health Society has re-opened more shelters for people who need somewhere to sleep. One of the shelters is located at the Marpole Neighbourhood House.

“Lookout Society has recently opened a few new locations to offer added shelter beds,” said Megan Kriger, the director of development of Lookout Housing and Health Society. “It still does not meet the need, but it is a step in the right direction.”

Overnighters on the rise

Volunteers at the Marpole Neighbourhood House, which hosts the Lookout Housing and Health Society shelter, said that they had their highest number of people sleeping at the shelter on March 7. The shelter reported a total of 22 people who stayed overnight. The shelter can accommodate up to 25 people.

The volunteers said this year has seen an increase overall in people using the shelter compared to last year.

The city made the decision to remove the tents in the South Vancouver encampment. The shelters say it is important to give people a safer living environment.

“The perception can be that encampments are unsafe. Mayor and council have taken steps necessary to open more spaces so people can come indoors,” Kriger said.

The city opens warming centres when the temperature drops below -4 C.

The city has various shelters including both permanent and temporary that open only with extreme weather conditions.

A fast demolition

Residents living in the Marpole neighborhood near Oak Street Bridge where the encampment was demolished were surprised by its sudden removal.

“Just one day it was gone,” said Jim Skinner, a local resident.

Before the teardown, Skinner would drive by the site every day and was upset by the number of residents needing to live there.

“I drove by it every day and [it’s] sad,” Skinner said.

While Skinner was not concerned about his personal safety while walking past the area, he said his main feeling towards the encampment was “the sadness of seeing so many homeless people.”

A second encampment area near the Knight Street Bridge was also removed last week.

The campsite was a fraction of the Oak Street tent city at the time of the removal.

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