With concerns for ‘fire, life and safety’ the City of Vancouver, with help from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) are conducting a sweep in an effort to close an illegal encampment where approximately 80 tent structures stand along Hastings Street in the city’s notorious DTES (Downtown East Side).
“Today, City staff, with assistance from members of the VPD, will be working to remove all remaining entrenched tents and structures in the area, approximately 80 in total,” reads the City of Vancouver press release from April 5. “The VPD will be present to ensure staff safety as they do their work and enforce the Streets and Traffic Bylaw as necessary.”
The press release states there have been more than 400 outdoor fires occurring on East Hastings Street in the last eight months.
Another concern that was noted was violence within the encampment.
According to the Vancouver Police Department, there was a twenty-seven per cent increase in “serious street-level assaults” since July 2022. As well, a survey conducted by Atira Women’s Resource Society with a total of 50 women who had spent time in the encampment reported that all of them had experienced physical and sexual violence.
After an order was issued by the Vancouver Fire Chief in July 2022, city staff have been working to remove structures from the encampment which total 600, the statement continues.
The press release goes on to explain that since August, the City of Vancouver has been working to connect those in need to housing options and support. Ninety people have now accepted and moved into housing, and 165 have accepted referrals to shelters.
Though, in a joint press release from Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) and Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) stated that they are “appalled” that this is occurring with no support or secure housing available for those being displaced. It goes on to say that the operation is being carried out with ‘no regard for impacts’ on women’s safety.
“Each person is being given a rolling barrel to put personal items in and everything else is being disposed of,” reads the statement from DEWC and BWSS.
In an interview with Andrea Glickman, DEWC Board Member, she said, “I think people that are already in a precarious living situation were put into a further state of emergency with the exclusion zone and then with the sweeps.”
Glickman explains that those within the exclusion zone were unable to access services such as food and showers provided by the DEWC for a period of time.
“The reality is that the exclusion zone was put up suddenly and with a high volume of police officers, and so the impacts were quite traumatizing on anyone that was within the exclusion zone,” said Glickman.
She goes on to explain that shelters are not secure housing because individuals have to go back to the streets every morning.
“You're going to be… in a situation where people are just going to naturally, probably, float back to Hastings Street,” said Glickman. She also noted that it is likely they will come back together elsewhere too.
When reflecting upon the City of Vancouver's intention on providing ‘safety,’ Glickman said that the impacts of the operation ‘did the exact opposite.’
“It's impossible to deal with homelessness without providing homes,” said Glickman.
Christina Faith Dawson, a Pastor in DTES, said that she believes it’s possible that some Nuu-chah-nulth members are at the encampment.
In a message to Ha-Shilth-Sa, she wrote, “There may be a few of them down here. I am pretty sure a lot of the homeless got scattered and makes it hard to find our people that were DTES. I haven't seen M.T. (A Nuu-chah-nulth male) for a few months.”