As Vancouver dismantles downtown tent city, residents say they have nowhere to go

A resident of a street encampment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside watched Tuesday as workers began removing some people’s belongings after the city handed out notices warning that tents and other structures would be dismantled.

The woman, who did not want to be identified for personal safety reasons, said she was unsure whether to stay or go, even as she organized her belongings outside her store.

There was a heavy police presence as city staff went to work, handing out bags and lining up dumpsters next to several tarp-covered structures in front of an abandoned building.

But other residents of dozens of tents lined several blocks along East Hastings Street stayed where they were.

The camp resident said the occupants have not been offered any housing options as part of the process.

“It’s really hard because, like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should stand my ground and not move or if I should, you know, just give up and go,” the woman said through tears.

“Actually, I have a house, but my living conditions are so horrible that I can’t even go there,” he said.

Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry issued an order last month requiring the tents to be cleared, saying they posed an extreme fire safety hazard, and a statement from the city on Tuesday said it is expected Let the removal process continue for weeks.

The woman’s tent was set up near the Overdose Prevention Society where she works, across from where city staff were focusing their efforts on what the city has deemed the “highest risk” areas.

She said she agrees the city needs to address concerns, including fire risk in certain areas, but she and her neighbors keep their side of the street clean.

As Vancouver begins to remove the tent camp, residents are wondering where they should go. #Homeless #Vancouver #HomelessCamp

“Across the street, it’s gotten absolutely out of control,” the woman said.

“Baby on the block!” he yelled as a passerby pushed a stroller past his store. He explained that residents spread the word whenever children are around to ensure their safety.

Later Tuesday, Vancouver police released a statement saying multiple officers were assaulted after they arrested a man near the area being cleared.

Staff at a nearby community center called police to report a man who was throwing computers and behaving erratically, police said.

They said he resisted arrest and “a large crowd gathered and became hostile and combative with the officers.”

Vince Tao, who works with the Vancouver Area Drug Users Network, said clearing the stores violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the British Columbia government and the Vancouver parks board signed in March last year after before the previous camps were cleared.

The agreement aims to connect homeless people to housing while preserving their dignity.

It commits the province to respond to the encampments by outreach through BC Housing, the Crown corporation responsible for managing the sheltered housing. It also commits the city to working with provincial, federal and community partners to connect residents with housing options.

The agreement says the city can enforce its bylaws that prohibit sidewalk structures “when adequate space is available for people to move indoors.”

The city is not following that protocol with the cleanup now underway, Tao said in an interview as police vehicles blocked traffic access to the street.

“Even if they succeed in doing this, people still have nowhere to go. So they’ll either come back right away or stay in a block,” he said.

City parks have also been closed to so-called “tent cities,” he added.

It’s an “endless cycle” until people have access to affordable housing, Tao said.

The woman whose tent was set up near the Overdose Prevention Society said she pays to rent a room inside, but doesn’t feel safe or comfortable there. A friend sitting nearby said the space was “infested” with bugs.

The city has offered to store people’s personal belongings, but the woman said the items have been stolen or missing in similar situations in the past.

A statement from advocacy group Pivot Legal Society said the city created the deteriorating conditions at the encampment along Hastings Street by failing to provide promised storage, hygiene facilities and rubbish disposal, and now cites those same concerns. health and safety as the reasons for forced retirement.

Pivot called on Vancouver to provide “livable, decent and affordable housing” and for the fire department to recognize the needs of the camp’s residents by creating a damage reduction approach to fire safety that takes into account challenges ranging from toxic drugs to police violence and trauma. due to colonization.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 9, 2022.

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