It’s been almost one month since B.C.’s new premier announced the province would be taking over the coordination of service delivery on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) with an immediate plan to address encampments and remove tents on and near East Hastings Street without displacing people.
“It’s not sustainable,” David Eby told Global News at a photo op Saturday.
“We can’t have people living on the sidewalk. It’s not safe for them, it’s not safe for the broader community and so we need a plan and a strategy.”
Brandon Hill, who has lived on the DTES for eight years, said he agrees the situation is unsafe.
“After a certain amount of time, you will sit down and you’re sitting in someone’s urine.”
Hill said he became addicted to opioids after suffering a workplace injury and ended up on the street, where he still feels safer sleeping on the sidewalk than in parks.
Jesse Phillips said he’s been camping on Hastings Street for about four months after arriving from Nanaimo, where he had previously lived in that city’s encampment.
Phillips said he lost the temporary housing he had secured after Nanaimo’s tent city closed in Dec. 2018.
“I absolutely don’t want to be living here,” Phillips told Global News Sunday.
“With the snow and the dropping temperatures, it just makes it that much harder for people to stay warm without having things like heaters which raise the possibility of fires and tragedies,” said Eby.
Chief Karen Fry of Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, who issued a July 25 order for the tent city to be cleared due to a “catastrophic” safety risk, said any tent outside of a building is a fire risk to the building, its occupants, the tent occupants and all first responders.
On Nov. 29, city staff dismantled a number of structures and impounded materials on the 100-block of East Hastings before fencing off the area.
The City of Vancouver said the move followed three weeks of daily verbal and written warnings that people were creating a fire hazard by encroaching on public space and doorways – making it difficult for pedestrians and those with mobility issues to safely navigate the sidewalk.
Everyone impacted was offered storage and shelter options, according to the city, which said engineering staff also issued a final warning in front of 77 East Hastings Street.
This week, after the snow storm, the city said staff will engage with individuals outside the Providence Crosstown Clinic address, and any items that have not been voluntarily removed will be impounded.
Where to safely relocate the most vulnerable remains a challenge as Vancouver is running out of sites for modular housing.
“We really need the support of senior levels of government to come to the table to make it happen,” ABC Vancouver city councillor Peter Meiszner told Global News Sunday.
“We have shelter beds but that is not a permanent long-term solution.”
“We need to make sure that we have a place for people to go, and we need to make sure that human rights are respected,” added Eby, who said BC Housing is working to match people up with housing.
Hill said it’s a lot of work to keep up with his addiction and he would accept shelter, supportive housing and/or treatment if any of those options were offered to him.
“There are a few people out here, they don’t like rules or whatever but the majority of people would be very, very happy,” Hill told Global News.
Phillips, who said he misses his daughter and her mother in Ontario and has seen too many young people die on the DTES, said he would also welcome housing and a chance at a better life.
“I really glad to hear that,” Phillips said.
“I was just talking about that with some of my friends here, saying like what, are we just being left out in the wind here to die?”
Both he and Hill said they would like to beat their addictions.
“It’s not an easy thing to do without support,” explained Hill.
As winter approaches, those living in tents are doing what they can – including lighting fires – to keep warm as temperatures dip.
Edgar-Alan Rossetti has been staying on the sidewalk at Hastings and Carrall for more than a year after calling the DTES home for thirteen years.
While the street artist feels safer in his tent than in an SRO unit, he said he would embrace any potential offer of supportive housing.
“I’d be in there yesterday,” Rossetti said Sunday, as he challenged B.C.’s premier to spend a night outside on Hastings Street.
“If he spends the night out here with me, I’ll carve him a 15-foot totem pole.”