‘Walking dead roaming the streets’: Local BIA president agrees with Vancouver Tripadvisor review

Click to play video: 'Vancouver’s critical social issues spark concern for tourism'
Vancouver’s critical social issues spark concern for tourism
There are concerns that Vancouver's latest tent city is harming businesses and driving tourists away. The city is facing a myriad of social challenges, and recent negative reviews from travellers are just one component of what's being called a 'broken system.' – Aug 8, 2022

Vancouver is suffering from a myriad of social challenges and now, an onslaught of negative reviews from summer tourists is showcasing the city’s already visible homeless situation to a global audience.

While several visitors to Gastown and Chinatown on Monday told Global News they enjoyed the sights, many said they were surprised by the street disorder, open drug use and defecation, and the sprawling sidewalk tent city along East Hastings west of Main Street.

“Typically in a big city you expect some homelessness but not to the extent I saw on that one street,” said a man visiting from the San Francisco Bay area.

“The kids were a little scared to be honest because they haven’t seen it,” added a father from Chicago.

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Recent Tripadvisor reviews of both neighbourhoods are scathing.

“Horrible and scary!” wrote one reviewer, who added, “Never ever going to Vancouver Chinatown again.”

Karen H from North Yorkshire in the U.K. wrote, “AVOID AVOID AVOID – SHOCKING – SLUMS – SAD.”

“Nope. Not today! Stay Away,” stated another reviewer who said they would not be eating anywhere in Chinatown.

Click to play video: 'Removal of East Hastings tent city set to start Tuesday'
Removal of East Hastings tent city set to start Tuesday

A visitor from New York City, who was “very disappointed” with Gastown wrote, “We had to pass through some very depressed streets with tent villages on the sidewalks.”

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“One of the worst and most unsavoury areas I have ever visited!!” added a reviewer who described Chinatown as unclean and unsafe.

One visitor from Nottingham, U.K. said, “it’s like a scene from ‘The Walking Dead,’” after checking out Chinatown’s Millennium Gate.

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Vancouver Chinatown BIA president Jordan Eng said he has to agree with the Tripadvisor review.

“You have the walking dead roaming the streets,” Eng told Global News.

The negative reviews are a symptom of a broken system in desperate need of a fix, he added.

“We’ve got a taxpayer-funded Downtown Eastside that has advocates perpetuating the status quo … What about rehabilitation? How about making these people better.”

Click to play video: 'VPD release video of assault on mom and toddler in Vancouver’s Chinatown'
VPD release video of assault on mom and toddler in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Julian Somers said the way governments are dealing with mental health and substance use on the Downtown Eastside (DTES) is not working.

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Somers cites custody centres full of people previously diagnosed with serious mental illness and addictions, more visible homelessness, and an escalation in both violent and survival crime for the failure of the current system.

“All of the evidence confirms that things are getting worse,” Somers said Monday.

Somers, who is also a clinical psychologist, said it’s time for a new approach. He’s advocating for recovery-oriented housing spread across the city to meet the specific needs of people with serious mental illnesses.

The alternative solution clinically assesses individuals considered the “hardest to house” before giving them choices for independent affordable homes, with supports to ensure each client’s stability throughout recovery, he added.

“The results are dramatic reductions in medical emergencies, in crime,” Somers told Global News.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver artist says DTES saved his life'
Vancouver artist says DTES saved his life

As it stands, he said the most vulnerable population is concentrated in one area with a revolving door of social and crisis services.

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“It maintains people in perpetual crisis,” he explained. “Where is the opportunity to leave it? And that’s where we currently are denying people opportunities in B.C.”

That ongoing crisis remains on full display in the DTES and adjacent neighbourhoods – for both tourists and locals.

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