Vancouver’s homeless shelters are overwhelmed following heavy rainfall and decampment

The president of the Union Gospel Mission said Vancouver’s enforced closure of a camp added another layer of stress to staff as they placed mats in hallways for the influx of those needing shelter.

Dean Kurpjuweit said Monday that their shelter has been operating at full capacity for the past few months, but for the past few nights they have had to go over capacity to accommodate everyone.

“We have a lot of rooms where we put people on bunk beds, then we have a communal space where we put cushions, and then in the corridors that lead to the rooms, we put some cushions,” Kurpjuweit said.

Vancouver police and city workers moved into the encampment on the downtown east side last Wednesday, removing and discarding items, tents and other structures from the sidewalk on Hastings Street.

Mayor Ken Sim, along with fire and police chiefs, said the fire danger and rising crime meant the encampments had to be dismantled.

Kurpjuweit said they went to great lengths to give people a warm and dry place to live, but they still had to turn some people away.

“We all know camps aren’t ideal, but on the other hand, if you’re going to do this, you need to have enough places for people to go, and there aren’t enough places.”

The United Gospel Mission has been reaching out to other organizations to find spaces for these individuals, including First United Church and the Salvation Army.

“Unfortunately, everyone seems to be just like us, more people than we have space,” Kurpjuweit said.

Whenever they have excess capacity and more and more people are asking to stay, they feel the pressure, he said.

“Everything is magnified a little bit.”

Members of the Stop the Sweeps Coalition distributed coffee, snacks, tents and blankets to people in Oppenheimer Park on Monday.

Ryan Sudds, the group’s organizer, said some of the residents he spoke to had returned to Hastings Street over the weekend, but city workers again turned them away.

“Yesterday, when the city was spinning around in the rain, people were angry, frustrated, fed up. Now it’s been five days and people are getting more and more angry about what’s going on,” Sudds said.

He said many people on Hastings Street had taken what was left and moved to settle elsewhere.

“For people who are displaced on the block, without shelter or housing, the city isn’t offering them anything other than maybe (suggesting) ‘You can go to CRAB Park,'” Sudds said.

Union Gospel Mission provided unhoused blankets, toiletries, clothing and Easter meals.

These are only “temporary relief from the situation,” Kurpjuweit said.

“We will continue to advocate for permanent solutions so that all members of our community can settle down and be in a place where they can live independently.”

Sim said at a news conference last week that the longer street camping goes on, the more likely it is that more lives will be lost, and even more people will lose their homes to fires.

—Nono Shen, Canadian Press

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