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Province responds to Hastings Street tent city removal, saying access to housing ‘limited’

A person's belongings are placed on the street to be moved to storage after his tent was cleared from the sidewalk at a sprawling homeless encampment on East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Tuesday, August 9, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s provincial government says it is “bringing all of BC Housing’s resources to bear” to try and accommodate people displaced from a tent city in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but says it simply doesn’t have many units available.

The statement — the province’s first on the controversial “decampment” of the 100-block of East Hastings Street — came in a Friday afternoon media release attributed to interim Housing Minister Murray Rankin.

Read more: Chaos erupts on East Hastings Street as Vancouver staff start clearing tents

“I am in direct contact with Mayor Kennedy Stewart to ensure that we are working together as closely as possible with the city to find housing solutions for those currently living on Hastings Street,” the statement reads.

“But right now, we’re at an in-between moment where access to new spaces is limited.”

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Click to play video: 'Chaos as City of Vancouver staff move in on East Hastings tent and structures' Chaos as City of Vancouver staff move in on East Hastings tent and structures
Chaos as City of Vancouver staff move in on East Hastings tent and structures – Aug 9, 2022

The city began work to remove scores of tents and structures from the block earlier this week, following an order from Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry that cited a potentially catastrophic fire risk from the encampment.

The initiative has raised tensions in the neighbourhood, which boiled over on Tuesday when activists clashed with police outside Carnegie Centre as officers conducted what they said was an unrelated arrest.

Read more: Woman charged in Tuesday’s Downtown Eastside ‘melee’

In the statement, Rankin touted the province’s ongoing efforts to house unsheltered people, including 700 new units “on the way over the long term,” but said the government had been clear with the city that it did not have the resources to house the large number of people affected by the fire order.

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He added that outreach teams were working to connect people with the limited number of spaces available, pursuing new buildings to lease or buy and speeding up renovations on rooming house units, with the goal of having a limited number available next week.

Global News has requested comment from Mayor Stewart.

But in a Friday tweet, he said “we have to do everything we can to save lives.”

“That’s the situation we’re in right now on Hastings. @CityofVancouver

staff are expediting shelter, making sure there’s access for emergency vehicles and services, and being compassionate, while we make sure that people stay safe.”

Click to play video: 'City of Vancouver staff remove tents from East Hastings' City of Vancouver staff remove tents from East Hastings
City of Vancouver staff remove tents from East Hastings – Aug 9, 2022

Earlier Friday ‘Our Streets,’ a group formed to support residents and liaise with the city over the encampment and street cleaning, issued a letter demanding a meeting with Vancouver MLA David Eby. Eby was the minister responsible for housing until stepping aside to conduct a bid for the BC NDP leadership.

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In the letter, the group alleges the province and BC Housing have failed to uphold a memorandum of understanding Eby signed in March on how to address the decampment of tent cities.

Read more: City shifts to ‘providing information’ as Hastings Street decampment enters Day 2

“You signed a memorandum of understanding that laid out a bare minimum of dignity for ‘unsheltered residents’ that your government would provide,” the letter states.

“You have failed to deliver on that plan. It is time to confront that failure with those who are feeling the consequences the most.”

Global News has requested comment from the City of Vancouver.

In an update Wednesday, the city said it had refocused its efforts to proving information to those sheltering on the street about storage options after the first day of decampment.

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