B.C.’s largest health care union joins calls to stop East Hastings forced displacement

B.C.'s Hospital Employees' Union calls for the end of the City of Vancouver's decampment of Downtown Eastside. Angela Bower talks to Mike Old about the implications the decampment will have on the unhoused's health.

The largest health care union in B.C. is the latest union to call for a stop to the City of Vancouver’s forced displacement of unhoused people in Downtown Eastside’s East Hastings Street.

The Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU) issued a statement calling the action “cruel, unsafe, and dehumanizing,” as those displaced have not been provided adequate housing alternatives.

Mike Old, HEU’s spokesperson, says the forced displacement creates situations where people experiencing homelessness become displaced and socially isolated.

“We think this is going to put their healthcare at greater risk. Greater risk of exposure to the elements, greater risk of mental health issues connected with lack of sleep and other issues,” Old said.

“People will be more vulnerable to a toxic drug supply when they’re isolated. It’s important to know that when folks are affected in this way, that they will end up in local emergency rooms and other health services.”

Old says the healthcare system is already under a tremendous amount of stress, creating more pressure on healthcare workers. He says the HEU has 50,000 members, included among them are those who work at St. Paul’s Hospital, while some are in service in the Downtown Eastside.

“So our members are up close and personal with what happens when people are displaced from whatever shelter they have,” Old said.

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On Thursday, B.C.’s largest union, CUPE BC earlier called on Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim to stop the decampments. The union’s president Karen Ranalletta said some City of Vancouver workers involved in the displacement efforts are members of CUPE Local 1004, and that the approach taken by the city’s council do not reflect the values of the union.

“The tasks demanded of these workers stand in contrast to our advocacy, which calls for a harm reduction and a trauma-informed approach when dealing with vulnerable populations.”

The City of Vancouver justified the decampment earlier this week saying the tents and structures posed an unacceptable fire and public safety risk.

“Due to the increasing public safety concerns and our inability to advance work using our current approach, the City needed to move forward now to bring the East Hastings encampment to a close. Fires were still occurring too regularly in the area, with escalating intensity due to an accumulation of materials and propane tanks,” the city said in a statement.

The city says its Homelessness Services Outreach team has been in contact with people experiencing homelessness since August.

“Since August, 90 people have been housed and over 150 have been provided with a shelter bed.”

According to the city, its outreach staff has partnered with BC Housing and non-profit organizations to secure shelter beds and housing.

“BC Housing reserved shelter beds and over the course of the two days of April 5 to 6, and 18 people accepted shelter offers. It is important to remember that some in the E. Hastings encampment have housing and others are there for other reasons such as vending or socializing.”

HEU says it is also worried about the “exclusion of media from the decampment activities” that happened earlier this week, and how it would affect democratic discourse. It is also supporting the federal housing advocate’s moratorium on the dismantling of encampments.

The city’s displacement has continued through Easter weekend.

With files from Angela Bower and Charlie Carey

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