Several homeless people pitched tents overnight in an area of Vancouver’s Hastings Street that was cleared Wednesday in a joint effort by city officials and Vancouver police.
Mayor Ken Sim ordered the demolition of the longstanding encampment after the city’s police and fire chiefs warned of escalating crime and unacceptable fire risks.
At the camp’s peak, some 180 buildings covered sidewalks on busy streets.
Now there are questions about where the displaced residents will go, with many vowing to return to the only place they feel safe once law enforcement is lifted.
Vancouver City Manager Paul Mokley said there isn’t enough shelter space to accommodate everyone, but a statement Wednesday night from Sim’s office said eight people had requested accommodations and they had been provided.
The statement said “the availability of shelter space is fluid” but promised to continue working with government partners to “identify additional capacity”.
Garbage trucks drove slowly down Hastings Street Wednesday, prompting shouts and protests from encampment residents on sidewalks on Vancouver’s downtown East Side.
Tents, suitcases, mattresses and furniture are put into compactors and crushed along with bags of trash and other debris.
A city ordinance to clear the encampment, backed by dozens of police officers, was thwarted Wednesday by residents and their advocates wondering where they would sleep next, even as the city said it was too unsafe to stay up.
Police and city workers, rolling rubber buckets labeled “personal items,” arrived on Hastings Street on Wednesday to remove about 80 tents and other structures on the sidewalk.
Garbage and belongings were scattered all over the place, and residents scrambled to remove their tents to pack their luggage.
Officials said the camp had become a major safety and fire hazard and it was only a matter of time before people died without intervention.
At the center of the encampment, on the corner of Columbia and East Hastings, residents swore to police and chanted “stop the sweeping”.
Some yelled, while others reluctantly packed their bags but promised to return.
Jason Rondeau, who lives in the camp, said residents “have been fighting the city.”
“I’ve had to replace my stuff, all my belongings, five times this year alone,” he said, pointing to a pile of luggage he’d packed when the police came in.
When city workers came to his tent, Rondeau said, he intended to say “Yes sir, have a good day” to ensure as little friction as possible.
But he said he would return, “because as soon as the police leave, I will return.”
Rondo called the raid a waste of taxpayer money. He said he was granted sanctuary three times this year, but that choice was worse than his position on the sidewalk.
Ken Johns, who spent 18 months in a tent before finding a rental, said the community was heartbroken after losing their home.
“That’s where they sleep, that’s where they feel safe. When you take that away and force them into a shelter or (a dorm), they don’t feel safe. (It) just hurts them again, makes them very uncomfortable. It’s hard to be successful,” he said.
While the encampments were being demolished, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim held a news conference and told reporters that the longer the street encampments go on, the higher the chances of people losing their lives, and even more people will die from the growing fire hazard. Lost their homes.
“Every day, we hear new and sometimes horrific stories of theft, vandalism, senseless violence, violence against women and, more specifically, Aboriginal women,” he said. explain.
Fire Chief Karen Fry said the risk at the camp had become more serious since she issued an order last July to close the camp in response to fire hazards.
There have been 16 tent fires this year alone, injuring four people, and 1,600 propane tanks have been seized since the fire orders were issued, she said.
“Outdoor fires in this area alone have increased by 340% since 2019. The continued fire risk from recent fires at the campsite and nearby make things even more dangerous on East Hastings Street,” Fry said.
Police Commissioner Adam Palmer said keeping people safe in the area was 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.
The city said in a statement that 600 tents and temporary structures had been removed from the area.
Now, Johns said, he is “privileged enough” to have a roof over his apartment, but living conditions are not much better than on the street.
“None of them are like real apartment buildings where everything is clean. People get bitten by bugs and people have to deal with rat droppings,” he said.
He said the money spent on the cleanup should be used to build an actual camp to house people.
“Why don’t they have the money to build a camp where we can actually be homeless? Build infrastructure, build portable toilets, build electricity, all that stuff,” he said.
Vincent Tao, an organizer with the Vancouver Area Drug Users Network, said the group found only two shelter beds tonight, leaving people living in tents with nowhere else to go.
“So as long as there’s no housing open, the problem will continue, where are people supposed to go? They’re going to be right back on the block,” he said.
Vancouver City Manager Paul Mokley acknowledged that there are not enough vacant shelter spaces to accommodate everyone who is told to leave the camps, but said many have been rejecting shelter options for months.
“There’s a good chance that we’ll be able to provide 100 shelters today, we can’t commit to that. If it’s not available today, what we’ll do is get people into shelters or other housing with internet access as quickly as possible,” he said.
“So anyone in Hastings looking for indoor options today, if we can’t offer them today, we’ll be in touch with those people and try to get them in as quickly as possible.”
Over the next few months, more than 300 spaces will become available, including apartments and temporary modular units that are being renovated on city properties in partnership with BC Housing, he said.
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 situation was also referenced by former Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who tweeted that a new Mayor and City Council had been elected, “who abandoned today our attempt to reconcile with First Nations and restore traditional genocidal practices . Welcome to brutal Vancouver.”
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.
—Nono Shen and Ashley Joannou, Canadian Press