East Hastings Street seeing ‘signs of change’ after forced displacement of unhoused: Vancouver police

Weeks after the City of Vancouver moved to displace dozens of residents in an encampment on East Hastings Street, city police are saying the area is seeing signs of improvement.

A media release from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) says that “safety conditions are improving” in the area, but tents and structures “are still a risk to the community.”

“Some crimes are down, but our officers continue to encounter an alarming number of weapons in the area,” commented Sgt. Steve Addison.

On April 5, around 80 tents and structures were dismantled by city staff accompanied by police. People’s belongings were put into garbage bins and into moving trucks, with the city saying that everyone in the encampment was offered alternative housing.

The displacement came after a fire order was issued by Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) Chief Karen Fry, who cited a large increase in fires in the area compared to yearly averages.

Vancouver police also reported an increase in crime in the area since the tents were erected.

However, those living in the encampment have expressed outrage over their displacement, saying they do not have anywhere else to go. Some indicated they would rather stay on the street than live in the arrangements offered by city hall.

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Since the displacement, the VPD says there were no sexual assaults reported in the area between April 5 and April 20. The department says there has been a reduction in other crimes as well.

“There has been just one reported robbery and one stabbing, with a 10-point drop in street-level assaults compared to the month before the decampment process started. Additional VPD officers working in the area have supported the community by responding to 24 medical calls, including overdoses, between April 5 and April 20,” the department stated.

The Vancouver Police Department along with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services display seized items.

The Vancouver Police Department along with Vancouver Fire Rescue Services display seized items. (CityNews Image)

But there still have been instances that officers have responded to, the VPD says.

Police note on one evening last week, officers patrolling the area seized 18 weapons including daggers, machetes and household tools that “had been modified to be used as weapons.” In another instance, police say officers rescued an unconscious woman from a tent that had caught fire, using a fire extinguisher from their car to put it out.

An assortment of weapons seized by Vancouver police

Vancouver police say 18 weapons were seized during a patrol in the Downtown Eastside. (Source: VPD)

As for fires, VFRS Capt. Matt Trudeau says there has been a 43 per cent reduction in the number of fires reported in the area last week compared to the week before the displacement.

“This reduction in outdoor fires is a step in the right direction to reduce potential injuries and damage to buildings, but a high number of fires remain in the area,” he said. “Since the fire chief’s order was put in place, almost 2,000 propane tanks have been removed and almost 10 propane tanks are still being removed each day.”

Trudeau continued, “The number of outdoor fires, the combustible structures against buildings, and the number of propane tanks being removed remains concerning. There has been progress in reducing fire risks overall, but more work is needed to increase fire safety and reduce the risk to those unsheltered, people in the community, businesses, and buildings.”

The VPD adds there have still been instances of fires and assaults in the area despite a reduction in their frequency.

“While there are some positive signs that we’re moving in the right direction, it’s clear more work is needed to curb violence and fire risks within the encampment,” Addison said. “There are some encouraging data, but we know it will take more time for the true impact of our collective efforts to come into full focus.”

The forced displacement has drawn the ire of numerous groups and officials in B.C.; The BC Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Union of Public Employees BC are among those who have come out with statements condemning the decision from Vancouver city hall.

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