Vancouver fire chief orders DTES tent city to be cleared, cites ‘catastrophic’ safety risk

Click to play video: 'New tent city appears along Hastings in Vancouver'
New tent city appears along Hastings in Vancouver
A new tent city has popped up along Hastings Street in Vancouver. Kamil Karamali reports on why it's not likely to be cleared away any time soon – Jul 7, 2022

A growing tent city on the 100 block of East Hastings Street in Vancouver has been given the order to clear out.

Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry issued the order Monday, warning that the buildup of structures in the area constituted a major safety hazard.

“Should a fire occur in the area in its current condition, it would be catastrophic, putting lives at risk and jeopardizing hundreds of units of much-needed housing,” the City of Vancouver said in a media release.

Tents and other temporary structures have long been a fixture of East Hastings Street, but number of permanent tents and the scale of the encampment have grown rapidly since the start of July.

Story continues below advertisement

That’s when Vancouver police ceased supporting city engineering workers conducting daily so-called “street sweeps,” the controversial practice the city says is necessary to clean up trash and discarded items, but which some neighbourhood advocates say involves targeting the homeless and taking their belongings.

Since then, some neighbourhood residents have complained about difficulty accessing their buildings or even travelling down the sidewalk.

The city said Monday that the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services would accelerate “structures-removal planning” that was already underway to improve road, sidewalk and building access along with fire safety.

Click to play video: 'Man stabbed after tensions rise on East Hastings'
Man stabbed after tensions rise on East Hastings

“The situation is complex and the City will continue to take a thoughtful approach that considers the needs of those sheltering outdoors as we do this work,” the city said.

“In the coming days, the City will work with the community, non-profit organizations and partner government organizations to expedite structure removal and to offer additional support for those sheltering outdoors.”

Story continues below advertisement

Daytime storage of personal items, more public washrooms, misting stations and handwashing and drinking fountains are among the supports the city says it will offer.

In a statement of his own, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he supported the order, but recognized the impact it would have on DTES residents.

“A lack of housing and recent hot weather is forcing more and more people to the streets – and along Hastings it has become dangerous to our most vulnerable neighbours,” Stewart posted to Twitter.

“Should a fire occur under these conditions, the loss of life could be catastrophic.”

Stewart touted the city’s partnerships with senior levels of government to fund non-market and modular homes, but acknowledged the demand for affordable and supportive housing continues to outstrip supply.

“My office is in constant contact with senior levels of government regarding securing additional resources for additional housing investments – especially for those currently living along Hastings Street,” he said.

“In this specific instance, I also request non-profit housing providers assess availability of housing within their portfolios.”

While Monday’s order specified the “immediate” removal of structures, it was not immediately clear when the order would be enforced.

Story continues below advertisement

In an email, Chief Fry said the fire service planned on “working with the city and the community to alleviate this risk.”

Sponsored content