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‘Where are we supposed to go?’ Downtown Eastside rally opposes tent city eviction

Click to play video: '‘Cycle of displacement’: Homeless advocates condemn Hastings Street decampment' ‘Cycle of displacement’: Homeless advocates condemn Hastings Street decampment
One week after the City of Vancouver moved in on the Hastings Street tent city, advocates for the unhoused are condemning the decampment. As Grace Ke reports, they call it traumatic and shortsighted, with no real housing solutions on the table – Aug 16, 2022

“Where are we supposed to go?”

That was the question Tuesday from residents of the Downtown Eastside and advocates for Vancouver’s homeless population, as the city’s efforts to remove a tent city from the 100 block of East Hastings entered a second week.

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

Standing in front of a large banner inscribed with the question, speakers vented frustration with the “decampment,” which began last Tuesday, following an order from the city’s fire chief to remove structures on the sidewalk due to fire and life safety hazards.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver police investigate threats against unhoused' Vancouver police investigate threats against unhoused
Vancouver police investigate threats against unhoused – Aug 16, 2022

“By displacing people sheltered on Hastings, the city is really sweeping the housing crisis under the rug,” Stop the Sweeps organizer Eli told the crowd.

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“Instead of treating the root cause of the disease, they’re punishing the people who are suffering from the symptoms.”

Read more: ‘Compassion needed’: Tensions flare on Hastings Street over tent city clearing

Vancouver police stopped providing support to city crews conducting daily “street sweeps” along Hasting Streets at the beginning of July, and in the seven weeks since, a dense encampment has built up along the route.

While the city has maintained that the sweeps are necessary to remove trash and debris from the area, DTES advocates say crews regularly took people’s tents and essential personal items, and criminalized homelessness.

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

“It corners people into an endless turn of humiliation and dispossession and it grinds them down to the bone,” Eli said.

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Since the beginning of the year there have been more than a thousand fires in the area causing damage. On a recent fire, crews were delayed because of combustibles surrounding a fire hydrant.

In an emailed statement, the City of Vancouver said work continues on the street to reduce fire risk and increase access to buildings and sidewalks.

It said the city remains in “daily conversations” with housing advocates and BC Housing to support efforts to find housing for people sheltering on the street, and was providing food services, counselling and access to storage.

 

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

The province issued its first statement on the matter late Friday, confirming that BC Housing does not have spaces available to accommodate all of the people sheltering on the street.

“They gave us bins to put our personal stuff in – our most important stuff – so it’s safe,” a woman named Maggie said. “We are treated just like those bins. Garbage.”

“I’m an addict. Proud to be an … addict. They are denying us because we’re addicts in the lower eastside,” added a man who gave his name as Edgar.

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“They are denying us our right of personal safety. They are in violation of our constitutional rights of safety in Canada.”

Other speakers focused on how the decampment disproportionately targets Indigenous people, many who have been displaced from their traditional lands and who have formed a community in the Downtown Eastside.

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

“They have a home, they are trying to keep their homes intact and together. They’ve been pushed out of Strathcona Park, they’ve bene pushed out of Oppenheimer Park … and that’s why they’re here,” Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said.

“It’s a strategic move that the government is doing, pushing them out of here and there, we’re at our last stand.”

The removal of structures was to begin with the highest risk areas. One spot was in front of the Regent Hotel, but on day one, things got violent after an unrelated police call about a man destroying computers at the nearby Carnegie Centre. A crowd formed, turning an already tense situation into a melee.

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The front of the Regent is still crowded with tents and now city workers appear to be concentrating efforts down the block. Fire inspectors are out everyday in the area. Progress is being made but Vancouver Fire says it’s been slow.

In its Friday statement, the province said BC Housing outreach teams were working to offer the “limited number of spaces we do have available,” and was rushing renovations at Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels to try and free up more.

Read more: Man in wheelchair stabbed as tensions rise at East Hastings Street tent city

It said it hoped to have a “limited number” of units available by this week.

In the meantime, advocates like Vancouver Coun. Jean Swanson are calling for massive investment in housing from all three levels of government.

She says until then the city should suspend the decampment, and provide basic amenities like bathrooms, safety patrols and food.

“People need a place to go before they should be banished. There is no place for them to go. We need to keep them safe until there is a place to go,” she said.

“They’re going to be on Main Street, they’re going to be on Water Street, they’re going to be on Granville Street, they’re going to be on Adanac Street, Commercial Street. Where do you think people are going to go if you move them? They have to go somewhere.”

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