The city’s mayor, fire chief and police chief say extreme fire risks and escalating crime rates have made a tent camp in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside a deadly hazard and must be closed.
City officials held a news conference Tuesday to dispatch Vancouver police and city workers to dismantle the tent camp along Hastings Street.
Mayor Ken Sim said the longer the street encampments go on, the more likely it is that more people will lose their lives, and even more people will lose their homes to the fires.
“Every day, we hear new and sometimes horrific stories of theft, vandalism, senseless violence, violence against women and, more specifically, Aboriginal women.”
The city said in a statement that it was working on the streets every day to address fire, life and safety concerns identified in an order issued by Fire Chief Karen Fry last July.
It has only gotten worse since then, Frye said. They seized 1,600 propane tanks and there have been 16 tent fires this year alone, she said.
“More tents fell, more tents went up. It’s not getting better,” Frye said. “It’s only a matter of time before more lives are lost.”
Four people died at the camp, Fry said.
Police Chief Adam Palmer said keeping people in the area safe was becoming increasingly challenging.
“Encampments on the Midtown East side are full of serious crime, violence and dangerous weapons that have proliferated in this neighborhood. Street assaults inside the encampments have increased by 27%, nearly half of which were committed by strangers.”
He said 19 police officers were beaten, some seriously.
At the center of the encampment on the corner of Columbia and East Hastings Streets, residents on the street swore to police and chanted “stop the sweeping.”
Some were packing their bags, while others dumped their belongings on the street.
Jason Rondeau, who lives in the camp, said they “have been fighting the city.”
“I’ve had to replace my stuff, all my belongings, five times this year alone,” Rondo said, pointing to a pile of luggage he’d packed when the police came in.
Rondeau said that when city workers came to his tent, he planned to say “Yes sir, have a good day” to ensure there was as little friction as possible between them.
But he said he would return, “because as soon as the police leave, I will return.”
In a statement, the city said it decided to take action because of the “increasing risk to public safety” posed by the camp.
It said there had been more than 400 outdoor fires in the past eight months.
“The ongoing fire risk at the campsite and recent fires in nearby buildings add to the precarious situation in East Hastings. Fires in the area are frequent and escalating due to the buildup of materials and propane tanks,” the statement said.
Vancouver police have also reported “worrying trends” in sexual violence in the area, the release said.
“With long-term housing options coming online, the city is encouraging those sheltering along East Hastings to take up shelter. While shelters are far from ideal, they offer a safer option than hiding in entrenched encampments.”
About 80 tents and structures remained at the site, the release said. At its peak, there were about 180 structures, though the city said it had removed 600 tents and temporary structures from the area.
Tent communities in Vancouver are common.
Two years ago in April, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told campers in the city’s Oppenheimer Park that they could leave or choose to accept the housing they were offered. More than 200 campers have been living in the park for months after being kicked out of the crab park.
Many campers then moved to nearby Strathcona Park, which also closed a few months later amid complaints of escalating crime.
The Pivot Legal Society, which advocates for people in the city-centre east, called the demolition of the Hastings Street site a “gross human rights violation”.
“People have nowhere to go,” it said in a tweet. “[It’s]a colossal waste of public resources and a dangerous tactic of pretending to be doing something.”
The decision to remove the Hastings Street camp came despite an order from British Columbia Supreme Court Justice F. Matthew Kirchner, who said it was unreasonable for Vancouver’s park board to issue two eviction orders to people living in Crab Park. of.
Kirchner found that the orders unreasonably assumed that there would be enough indoor shelter space to accommodate campers who were forced out.
Similar court orders have been issued allowing the camps to remain in Victoria and Prince George.
—Ashley Joannou and Nono Shen, Canadian Press
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