Vancouver park rangers thwart attempts to build tiny homes at homeless encampment | CBC News

Vancouver park rangers stopped advocates from building tiny homes Thursday at a court-protected homeless encampment on the city’s downtown waterfront.

Advocates were hoping to build insulated shelters that would provide protection and warmth, not only from the recent snowstorm that hit the Lower Mainland, but from future storms and cold snaps.

Encampment residents and advocates at CRAB Park argued the structures should stand because the encampment is protected under court orders that found there was no suitable alternative accommodation for those who live in makeshift tents at the waterfront park.

However, the Vancouver Park Board said the tiny home structures are a safety hazard and contravene their bylaws, which state that temporary structures are only allowed from dusk to dawn.

Park rangers, accompanied by police officers, stopped the construction of the homes before it started on Thursday afternoon.

WATCH | Advocates and park rangers exchange words on Thursday:

Vancouver park rangers stop CRAB Park advocates from building tiny homes

Advocates for homeless encampment residents in Vancouver say they were trying to build tiny homes in an ‘exempted area’ amid a series of snowstorms on Thursday when they were stopped by the Park Board.

Advocates say volunteer efforts to build tiny homes shows the depth of the province’s homelessness crisis, and that unhoused people need dignified shelter from extreme weather.

“The end goal is to basically build society back up from a bit of a struggle that we’re having recently,” said Brad Gustafson, a Prince George-based contractor who spearheaded the efforts to build the homes. “It seems apparent that the three tiers of government just can’t seem to roll quickly enough to deal with the problem [of homelessness]and in fact, it only seems to be getting worse and worse.

“And so, we are doing the best we can as a grassroots movement.”

Gustafson built several of the tiny homes at a court-protected encampment in Prince George this winter that remain standing despite warnings from the City of Prince George. The volunteer builder said he hoped the City of Vancouver would also let the temporary structures stand in CRAB Park, especially during a snowstorm.

WATCH | Prince George volunteers push for tiny homes in CRAB Park:

Advocates call for tiny homes in Vancouver’s CRAB Park

A group of volunteers that built tiny homes in Prince George, B.C., is hoping to expand the project to Vancouver. Construction company Ingreen Systems says it is on board but the plan is facing pushback from the City of Vancouver as it hopes to launch a pilot project in Strathcona.

However, a park board statement said the structures would “pose safety hazards, contribute to the degradation of the parklands, and disrupt use of the park for the entire community.”

In response, Gustafson says his structures, which are built with oriented strand board (OSB) and insulation, are far safer than the tents that currently occupy much of CRAB Park. He says tents cannot provide safety for occupants or their belongings, and do not provide insulation for the winter.

“OSB and insulation behind it … they actually are rated for fire purposes,” he said.

Advocates say structures meet bylaws

Gustafson says he travelled to Vancouver to keep the momentum going after his efforts in Prince George. He says he was spurred in part by calls in August from CRAB Park residents’ advocate Fiona York for tiny homes to be built at a parking lot adjacent to the park.

York had a tense exchange with park rangers who came to stop the construction Thursday, saying that the proposed structures satisfied city bylaws.

“It’s movable. These can be dismantled and moved,” she argued in response to bylaws that state residents cannot build permanent structures in parks.

Man with beard stands in front of construction materials
Brad Gustafson, a self-employed contractor who helped design the tiny homes, is seen here in Prince George last year. (Kate Partridge/CBC News)

However, a park ranger who identified themselves as a “management rep” said the dozen or so rangers and police officers at the encampment were not there to debate the bylaws, and that advocates would have to take up their concerns with the city’s legal team.

Gustafson said the city is interpreting the definition of “temporary structure” quite differently from the authorities in Prince George, and he hopes lawyers on both sides hash out a precise definition as the homelessness crisis drags on.

Speaking after the construction of the tiny homes was stopped, Vancouver deputy city manager Sandra Singh said the city has been “very active” in working with other levels of government on homelessness.

“We have hundreds of units of supportive and social housing in the queue or in the pipeline here in Vancouver,” she said. “More needs to be done. We would suggest that actually more needs to be done regionally as well.

On The Coast8:14What difference can tiny houses make to Vancouver’s housing crisis?

While advocates worry about the impact of snow and cold on unhoused people in Vancouver deputy city manager Sandra Singh discusses what they are doing for people experiencing homelessness right now.

“We have 25 per cent of the region’s overall population, and over 75 per cent of the region’s shelter’s spaces.”

When pressed about the city moving to evict homeless campers at Oppenheimer Park during the recent cold snap, Singh says enforcement efforts are necessary during the daytime in order to ensure parks are available for all residents.

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