While a mass eviction is underway in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver’s city manager has said the municipality “couldn’t commit” to providing shelter spaces to all those in need.
Paul Mochrie estimated around 100 people on East Hastings streets are seeking shelter, but it isn’t likely that shelters can accommodate them all overnight.
“What we would do if it wasn’t available today is, we would work to get people into shelters or other housing that comes online as quickly as possible,” he said in a press conference.
“So anyone on Hastings today who is seeking indoor options, if we can’t provide it today, we will be staying connected with those people and working to get them inside as quickly as we can.”
Vancouver police and city staff moved into the embattled neighbourhood on Wednesday morning to remove remaining tent structures, that pose a health and safety risk to residents, particularly with regards to the risk of fire. Accommodations, however, have not been provided to — or accepted by — all those who face Wednesday night without a shelter.
“We do know that there are individuals sheltering outdoors on Hastings Street who have declined options for SRO units or shelter spaces,” said Mochrie. “We recognize that shelters are not a substitute for housing, but they are warmer and clearly safer than the situations in this encampment.”
Mochrie said the municipality is working with those experiencing homelessness to ensure they are supported and have access to washrooms, food, and “storage” space for their belongings. Footage shot by Global News, however, shows that “storage” turned out to be labelled garbage bins.
More than 600 structures have been removed since last summer, along with thousands of kilograms of other materials.
Advocates for residents in the Downtown Eastside have long repeated, there is “nowhere” for them to go if their temporary shelters are dismantled.
Mochrie said it is “absolutely correct” that there are more people in Vancouver seeking housing than there is housing available — a fact that will not change with Wednesday’s encampment removal. In the last eight months, the city has made “efforts” to preserve shelter options for the Hastings Street tent residents, he added.
“We have over 1,300 people in shelters waiting for permanent housing, so the notion of prioritizing people who might have a structure on Hastings is somewhat unfair as well,” Mochrie said.
“We have to deal with that problem macro. The province, as the mayor has indicated, has stepped up. I think that’s really important.”
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Late last year, the provincial government took over service delivery in the neighbourhood, which is suffering from multiple crises, including poverty, inadequate shelter and housing options, mental health and addictions, challenges, and the toxic drug crisis.
Last month, the province announced 330 new housing spaces would be coming for DTES residents by the end of June, including 241 renovated single-room occupancy (SRO) units. More units will come online later in the summer.
That announcement, however, comes as BC Housing confirms nearly 100 modular housing units — currently occupied — will be shuttered and moved in July due to the end of a lease agreement. It has not finalized a plan for its relocation or reoccupation.
It’s unclear how many of those evicted Wednesday have firm accommodation plans in place. Speaking to the matter on Wednesday, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he knew there were open shelter spaces available to DTES residents in the morning, but did not know if there would be a shortage later in the day.
“People have been offered spaces for the last four months, in fact,” he told reporters at the legislature. “Ninety people have already taken spaces.”
As of 5 p.m., the City of Vancouver said six Hastings Street residents had requested shelter and all had been accomodated.
Nicole Mucci, spokesperson for the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Vancouver, said the organization’s 92-bed emergency shelter has been at or above capacity for the last year.
“As a result of today’s encampment, we’re likely going to be full, but we’re going to whatever it takes to try and find spaces for folks if they come to our 601 East Hastings location because we don’t want anyone to go without somewhere to sleep tonight,” she told Global News.
“If we have to find a way for a person to even sleep in the hallway or something, we will do what it takes because nobody should go without a safe place to sleep at night.”