Vancouver continues to clear East Hastings, handful of people receive shelter

After city workers and police moved to clear tents and temporary shelters along East Hastings Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Wednesday, some people had already returned and set up makeshift homes on the sidewalks by early Thursday morning.

Just before 9 a.m., the Vancouver Police Department had blocked East Hastings again, this time between Gore Avenue and Main Street to continue to remove tents and structures in the area. After 11 a.m., the block had moved west to between Main and Columbia streets.

Main Street at East Hastings Street. (City of Vancouver)

Main Street at East Hastings Street. (City of Vancouver)

The city and police have not provided a time for reopening.

While the city has insisted shelter spaces have been made available for anyone impacted by the forced displacement, it seems not many of the estimated 100 people ordered out of the area have accepted the offer.

“As of 6 p.m. today, eight people living in the East Hastings encampment have requested shelter and have been accommodated. Additional shelter spaces are being held for individuals who have left the encampment,” said Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim in a statement released Wednesday night.

“Shelter space availability is fluid in nature and we will continue to work with government partners to identify additional capacity and make them available to those sheltering along East Hastings – for individuals with pets, city staff have been working to connect them with pet-friendly shelters,” he added.

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“Additionally, teams have been working to ensure that access to all healthcare facilities and essential services within the encampment zone is maintained.”

Sim said he also wanted to recognize the work of BC Housing and the B.C. Ministry of Housing to ensure there was sufficient shelter space to meet demand.

“We are continuing to work with senior levels of government to secure permanent, quality housing for Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents – the first of the 330 units recently announced by the Provincial Government are set to come online in the coming days.”

Not enough shelter or housing spaces: City Manager

However, in an earlier news conference alongside the mayor, Vancouver City Manager Paul Mochrie admitted there are not enough immediate spaces if everyone living in the nearly 200 structures along the street accepted an offer of shelter.

“We do know that there are individuals sheltering outdoors along Hastings Street who have declined options for SRO units or shelter spaces. We recognize that shelters are not a substitute for permanent housing, but they are warmer and clearly safer than situations in this encampment,” said Mochrie.

“As longer term housing comes online … we will continue to work to connect those within our shelter system to those options.”

While some of those who were evicted have refused offers of shelter space for various reasons, Mochrie says many previous campers have accepted.

“Since August, over 90 people have moved from the Hastings Street corridor into permanent housing and another 160 people have accepted referrals to shelters.”

While encouraging more people to take advantage of shelter space, Mochrie called it a critical opportunity for people to connect with service providers and transition to housing placements.

“In the meantime, we are going to continue working to ensure that people who are experiencing homelessness have the supports they need, including access to storage for their personal belongings, washrooms, and food.”

Decampment efforts on East Hastings Street ramped up Wednesday when dozens of police officers were deployed to assist city crews to get residents to clear their belongings.

Community members and officials voiced concerns regarding the decampment Wednesday, with both the B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner and Federal Housing Advocate chiming in.

Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) issued a Fire Chief’s Order in July 2022 to remove tents and structures along the street to address “fire, life, and safety concerns.”

Mochrie said the city’s engineering crews will “continue to do the work that they do every day” to remove shelters and tents along sidewalks, which are “contrary to city bylaws.”

He confirmed the city will continue to request support from VPD “as necessary.”

With files from Michael Williams and Emily Marsten

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