Removal of tents in Downtown Eastside postponed as city attempts to find storage options

Click to play video: 'Hastings Street tent city remains intact despite deadline'
Hastings Street tent city remains intact despite deadline
The City of Vancouver was supposed to begin clearing tents from the Hastings Street encampment Wednesday. But as Emad Agahi reports, the tents are still standing, as nobody from the VPD or Vancouver Fire rescue was seen taking the tents down. – Aug 3, 2022

The City of Vancouver is postponing the removal of a growing tent city in the Downtown Eastside as it attempts to find places for affected residents to store their belongings.

Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry ordered the immediate removal of the temporary shelters on several blocks of East Hastings Street last week, citing a “significant fire safety risk” in the area.

“The City has heard from those sheltering outdoors that having a place to potentially store their belongings is important,” wrote Krystyna Domes, a communications official with the municipality.

“The City is finalizing storage options to secure people’s personal belongings before we begin structures removal.”

The municipality said it hopes to procure storage space by the beginning of next week and tent removal will begin at that time with city staff support. It has also committed to offering bathrooms, washing stations, and drinking fountains for those impacted by the shelter teardown.

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As of Wednesday, however, some people in the Downtown Eastside said none of those supports were in place.

“There’s fear and confusion. There’s nowhere for people to go. There’s been no plan in place,” said outreach worker Jen Brown in an interview.

Click to play video: 'Hastings tent city still there as deadline to clear out passes'
Hastings tent city still there as deadline to clear out passes

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

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Brown said fires have displaced some residents, leading to an increase in campers. Others are seeking an escape to “not livable” conditions inside the subsidized single-room occupancy hotels, she added.

“The logic is that the tents are a fire hazard, so if people move their tents off of Hastings, they’re still going to be a fire hazard whether they’re on Hastings or not,” she said.

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“Personally I feel the city’s kind of got a black eye. This doesn’t look good for tourism. The cruise ships are back this year.”

In July, 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, though some neighbourhood advocates say it 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.

“A lot of people have a lot of opinions about the community but this is one of the brightest communities in the city and I see a lot of that,” said Brown.

“I see a lot of people who are resilient and they shouldn’t have to be.”

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Fire doubles down on East Hastings tent removal'
Vancouver Fire doubles down on East Hastings tent removal

According to the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Matthew Trudeau, the City of Vancouver is working on a new garbage removal option for the affected portion of East Hastings, “as part of a community based stewardship program that was intended to replace previous street cleaning practices.”

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Trudeau said municipal representatives distributed written leaflets to each tent with information on next steps for removal on Aug. 1, and made additional notices available on Tuesday.

“The City is committed to providing details on steps that will be taken within these timelines to those sheltering on East Hastings and adjacent streets as it comes available,” he wrote in a Tuesday email.

A former resident of the Strathcona Park tent city, who asked to be identified by first name only, said the uncertainty around the tent removal is “intolerable” for folks living on the street.

“The city wants them out but where are they supposed to go?” Ian asked.

“It’s gotten worse but these people don’t want to be here. They’ve got no place to go. It hurts. I know what I was like. It doesn’t matter what your situation is. Everybody deserves better.”

Ian said he now lives in a subsidized housing unit through BC Housing, but feels deeply for those about to be impacted by temporary shelter teardown.

“Five years from now I hope, I dream that this is going to be a whole different street than it is now, because I do think the city is stepping up and saying, ‘We’re done kicking this down the road.'”

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— With files from Simon Little

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