Concerns arise over Vancouver’s tent city scaring away tourism from local businesses

Business groups are calling on the City of Vancouver to quickly enact a supportive housing solution away from DTES.

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Tour operators are raising concerns that a new tent city along East Hastings Street in Vancouver is driving customers away from area stores at the height of the summer tourist season.

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Business groups are calling on the city to quickly enact an out-of-district supportive housing solution, using BC government funding and subsidies.

More than 130 tarps and tarps filled the two blocks between Main and Carrall streets one morning this week. The makeshift houses provided a bit of shade and privacy for those who lived in them; some had propane stoves and heaters.

Scenes from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) as more than 130 tents are pitched on E. Hastings St. in Vancouver on July 21, 2022.
Scenes from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) as more than 130 tents are pitched on E. Hastings St. in Vancouver on July 21, 2022. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Walley Wagolet, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society, said the tent city is causing undue harm to businesses around the Downtown Eastside.

“This is a business district. Although homeowners are devastated that so many people are homeless, they too are suffering, reeling from success or failure based on whether travelers explore our city,” Wagolet said. “Tourists are beginning to feel that it is too unsafe to visit the stores due to their proximity to the area.”

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After city workers, accompanied by police, were charged with dismantling and disposing of unattended tents and other personal belongings left on the streets, the city council voted to end the practice of “street sweeps.” ” newspapers on July 1.

“It’s been absolute chaos ever since,” said Jason Delesoy, manager of the Anthem Properties building at the intersection of Hastings and Carrall, which contains a coffee shop, lighting store and business offices with a secure entry system.

“We had to double down on our private security, including hiring a guard to work weekends. It has become dangerous, we are seeing stabbings almost every day.

In addition to cleaning the sidewalks next to the building of trash, Delesoy said the security guards’ duties include instructing lost tourists on the quickest route out of the area.

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“Summer travelers get off the cruise ship, maps in hand, and wander this way. They get very scared and immediately ask us for help,” he said.

Vancouver Police Sgt. Steve Addison confirmed that disorder has increased throughout East Hastings since the beginning of July.

“There have been a number of violent incidents… including a man in a wheelchair who was stabbed while trying to move through tents and debris on the sidewalk and a woman in her 80s who was sprayed for bears earlier this week. ”.

On Sunday last week, a 67-year-old woman was struck in the head with a butcher knife while walking near East Hastings and Carrall, Addison said.

Nathan Murdoch, co-founder of the walking tour company Toonie Tours, said many of his clients are surprised to come across East Hastings, a street that sits between two of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Gastown and Chinatown.

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“We have tried to plan tours that did not include the area, but the tourists were not interested. They want to see what has been announced to them; the most historic places in Vancouver.”

While community organizations agree that homelessness is to blame for urban encampment, they say the most pressing issue is the lack of access to adequate sanitation and water for those who have established the encampment.

“I don’t think anyone likes it or wants to block doors or make it difficult to get around on the street, but the problem is that there is no housing,” said Fiona York, a former project coordinator for the Carnegie Community Action Project.

Scenes from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) as more than 130 tents are pitched on E. Hastings St. in Vancouver on July 21, 2022.
Scenes from the Downtown Eastside (DTES) as more than 130 tents are pitched on E. Hastings St. in Vancouver on July 21, 2022. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /PNG

Previously, unsheltered residents have pitched tents in various city parks, including Oppenheimer and CRAB.

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Along with high-priced rents, York said a recent drop in vacancy at single-bedroom occupancy hotels has contributed to an increasing number of people living on the streets.

A 43-year-old veteran who has lived in a tent near the intersection of Carrall and East Pender streets for nearly a month told Postmedia Thursday that setting up a shelter along the sidewalk has offered him a level of protection than sleeping in a tent in Parque del CANGREJO.

“There are streetlights and security cameras around here, so my stuff gets stolen less.”

Wagolet, who represents more than 500 businesses in Gastown, said the city and province need to create more sustainable housing solutions.

“It is crucial that the spaces established by the province and the city adapt to the needs and well-being of the people who inhabit them,” said Wagolet. “What we are doing now is not working. They can’t keep forcing homeless people to move.”

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The city said it plans to restore order to the streets by hiring and equipping locals, including some who find themselves homeless, to clean sidewalks and remove structures and fire hazards.

“We need to give community groups time to organize a block management program to help with this work,” the city said in an email Thursday.

Last week, Vancouver placed more dumpsters throughout Hastings. Its next stated mission is to increase access to public restrooms, only one of which is located near the Carnegie Community Center, which closes at 11 p.m. A restroom trailer is planned to be added to the area next week.

Asked if it has any plans to help ease the housing shortage, the province’s Ministry of Housing said BC Housing has been “actively reaching out to those camping on the street or in parks to offer indoor spaces.”

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“Staff, the City of Vancouver, and our nonprofit housing operators are working on building supportive housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness,” he replied via email.

“Since 2018, BC Housing has opened more than 1,400 supportive housing units in the city,” the statement read. Another 700 spaces are currently in development, he said.

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