East Hastings forced displacement dampens community’s Easter weekend

The decampment on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has left many feeling somber as people living in tents in East Hastings were forced to leave. Angela Bower speaks to the Union Gospel Mission during its annual Easter weekend meal.

The forced displacement on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has left many feeling somber this Easter weekend.

At the Union Gospel Mission (UGM), the annual Easter weekend meal has a different tone, as people living in tents in East Hastings were forced to leave. The City of Vancouver once again started dismantling an encampment on East Hastings Street earlier in the week.

“What happened on Wednesday even dampened things a little bit more. So we’re grateful we can provide a safe, warm place for people to go for a couple of hours. But again, that’s temporary. We need to find the permanent solution,” said UGM’s president, Dean Kurpjuweit.

Kurpjuweit says people have been looking for a warm place to stay since the City of Vancouver started cracking down on tents on city streets.

“We had people sleeping in the hallways. We had no place left for people to go without breaking fire code violations. And so we’re not only maxed out, we’re beyond maxed out. And this is all the result of the encampment. And so the reality is there’s not enough shelter space to provide places for everybody.”

Kurpjuweit said they’ve had to turn people away.

“As an agency, what we’re concerned about is there was no place for these people to go.”

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Michael Petersen has been living at the UGM for 4 weeks now. He says the displacement has made many people anxious.

“If you’re going to put endless amounts of money into rehabilitating people who are lost to addiction on the streets, why don’t you put a significant amount of money into treatment centers and housing where people can live with dignity and respect? That’s what’s important,” said Petersen.

Petersen’s situation is a reminder that anyone can become homeless. After a car accident left him with a concussion and cognitive issues, he couldn’t work or afford his rent.

“It’s because of my cognitive ability right now to operate equipment or a vehicle,” Petersen said. “I don’t have a license or insurance anymore because it was cancelled by the doctor.”

UGM’s president says personal items like coats and blankets left in tents were thrown out by city workers during the decampment. He says the timing has made it hard for many.

“Apparently there’s about 330 housing units that are supposed to open in June. Well, they’re not open yet. They’re opening in June. And so, you know, if this would occur after those places were open, then maybe we could move people from the shelter into the housing units, people from the encampment, into the shelters.”

In March, B.C.’s Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the provincial government would be opening over 330 housing spaces for people living in tents in DTES. According to the announcement, the new spaces, are expected to open by the end of June.

“These are human beings. They deserve dignity. They have worth,” Kurpjuweit said.

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