Advocates blast City of Vancouver, police, fire department for decampment of East Hastings

Advocates for people living along East Hastings Street in Vancouver blasted the City of Vancouver, and its police and fire departments Tuesday, for their actions in decamping the area.

Advocates for people living along East Hastings Street in Vancouver blasted the City of Vancouver, and its police and fire departments Tuesday, for their actions in decamping the area.

Representatives from community organization “Our Streets” team and Indigenous communities took issue with how the planned clearing of the stretch between Gore Avenue and Abbott Street has played out.

Advocates say people are being evicted with no place to go, and are highly critical of the lack of support from provincial body, BC Housing.

“By displacing people sheltered on Hastings, the city is really sweeping the housing crisis under the rug,” Eli Oda Sheiner, member of the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War, told a crowd at a rally on Hastings. “But instead of treating the root cause of the disease, they’re punishing the people who are suffering from its symptoms. They’re kicking people while they’re down.”

The rally comes after Vancouver Fire Rescue Services issued an order July 25 for the immediate removal of the structures within three days. The deadline was initially extended to Aug. 3, only to be again postponed another week.

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At the time, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services admitted that the deadline would likely not be met. However, members stressed the importance of access to windows and doors in the event of an emergency.

On Aug. 9, backed by Vancouver Police Department officers, city crews began removing structures from the sidewalks. After city crews had finished for the day, a confrontation occurred between VPD and DTES residents and activists.

Police and city staff used to clear tents and belongings off East Hastings Street every morning, but that practice stopped at the beginning of July after years of opposition from advocates.

Members of “Stop the Sweeps Coalition” claim BC Housing has been virtually invisible, and say the VPD, fire, and city are conducting “a campaign of terror”.

“The Hastings tent city is not a problem to be disappeared, and our coalition will continue to struggle in solidarity with the residents of the Hastings Tent City until we bring about the conditions that people demand, on the people’s own turns,” Sheiner said.

“Stop the Sweeps Coalition” also described the first week of the removal as “violent forced, evictions.”

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Chief Judy Wilson, the secretary-treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, was among the speakers, and lent her voice to the decampment process.

“When one person is being displaced or one person is being criminalized, we have to stand by them. Who is going to stand by them? All of us,” Wilson told the crowd.

Meanwhile, speaking from his office in Vancouver Tuesday, B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix says people in the area need more than housing, and pointed to the province’s complex care model which includes mental health and addictions support.

Dix says the province has opened three complex care housing centres since January this year.

“For many of the people involved you need other supports as well on-site to ensure the housing is successful so the investment both in the downtown eastside and in mental health and addictions programs is without precedent and we gotta continue to work on those problems.”

DTES Housing

Downtown Eastside housing advocates blasted the City of Vancouver and its fire and police departments for their roles in decamping East Hastings Street. (CityNews)

In a statement to CityNews, City of Vancouver said the removal of structures along Hastings Street is a “complex effort,” and it appreciates the work of many community organizations and enterprises, along with BC Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health.

“City staff have been encouraging and supporting voluntary removal of tents and belongings, and regularly sharing information in person with those sheltering outdoors and will continue to do so at this time,” the city wrote. “VPD will not be accompanying city staff this week.”

Speaking to CityNews earlier this month, Anna Cooper, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, admitted fire safety is important. However, she argued city crews are not considering other safety issues in this sweep, “including simply how unsafe it is to shelter alone, and that when people are force-evicted from Hastings, that is what will happen.”

“A quick scan through the media stories of unhoused people being severely injured and dying from fires, it’s overwhelmingly going to show you that people were isolated when that happened, not in congregate settings,” she said.

With files from OMNI and Dean Reckseidler

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