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Vancouver plays Whack-a-Mole with homeless campers

A quiet Vancouver homeless camp turned defiant on Thursday, in reaction the city’s attempt to evict its residents earlier this week.

Valerie Nicholson was one of roughly a dozen homeless individuals who have squatted on a patch of undeveloped industrial land below the Grandview Viaduct since August. Vancouver police evicted Nicholson and her camping companions from the city-owned property on Monday. But after three days of looking for housing – and three nights of sleeping on the floor of a Downtown Eastside apartment building – Nicholson and her neighbours moved back to the empty lot at 1480 Glen Dr. on Thursday afternoon.

“I’d rather be living inside, not out here in the mud,” Nicholson told The Tyee. “But we had nowhere else to go.”

In what now resembles a game of homeless camper Whack-a-Mole, the city plans to evict Nicholson yet again.

“We will be working with police to have the tents taken down,” city spokesperson Jennifer Young told The Tyee late Thursday afternoon. Young did not say when the city will act.

“The camp is in violation of the city’s land regulation bylaw,” Young said. “We will continue to enforce out bylaws.”

Young said the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision, which found it unconstitutional to prevent homeless people from sleeping on public property when there are not enough shelter beds available, does not apply to Vancouver.

“The decision in Victoria is related to the Victoria bylaws, not to our bylaws,” Young said.

Nicholson, who is 53, said she’s been homeless since the city demolished her former home, the troubled Marie Gomez Place, early this year. She said she’s been camping at various sites across the False Creek flats since spring.

“I’m on a lot of waiting lists,” Nicholson said. “I’m on waiting lists all over town."

Nicholson and her camp-mates were under the impression that a city outreach worker had given them permission to camp on the site. Young denied that the city has ever made such an offer. (Young also alleged that the city is building 3,800 units of new housing by 2010.)

The Downtown Eastside Residents Association attempted to place Nicholson and the rest of her into social housing, but was not able to do so, according to director Kim Kerr.

“We couldn’t find anything for them,” Kerr said. Since Monday, he has allowed the group to sleep in the common area of a building his association manages.

“They shouldn’t be here. They should be inside,” Kerr said. “A couple of them are very sick.”

“Our intent was not to start a tent city,” Kerr continued. “Our intent was to do something to help these people. I can’t keep them in my common room forever. And we can’t leave these people outside to die.”

Monte Paulsen is investigative editor of The Tyee.

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