The City of Vancouver has finally cleared vendors from the unit block of East Hastings Street, officials confirmed in a November 17 meeting with community members and police at the Woodward’s Building.
Taking care to avoid saying that people are being forced to leave the area, the city made clear it will no longer tolerate the crowd that for years has congregated along the north side of the street that runs between Carrall and Columbia.
An email obtained by the Georgia Straight provides more information. On November 13, Mary Clare Zak, City of Vancouver managing director of social policy and projects, sent relevant stakeholders a note about the initiative.
“As many of you are aware, City staff (along with Park Rangers, VPD and Housing Outreach) have been working over the past months to find ways to address the subject of street vending in the DTES, most notably in the 0-300 blocks of East Hastings,” it begins.
“The objective of the Street Vending Task Force is to assist and facilitate the movement of street vendors from the Unit Block E. Hastings Street and surrounding area, to designated vending locations,” the email continues.
It states that beginning November 16, “you will begin to see a larger City presence in the DTES, including VPD officers, as we continue our efforts in the area to ensure it is a safe place for everyone”.
It appears three events aligned to create the right time and an opportunity for the city to clear the block of hawkers, many of whom survive off vending as their primary source of income.
The first, discussed in Zak’s email, is the city opening new sanctioned sites for street vending; those locations are 62 East Hastings and 501 Powell Street. Council approved these last June.
“The ability to better consolidate the activity, along with a thoughtful and constructive enforcement approach, will decrease and address unlawful vending taking place in other areas of the Downtown Eastside, including the blocks of East Hastings between Main and Carrall Street,” a staff report reads.
In addition, the Sunday market on Carrall Street between Cordova Street and East Hastings will continue to operate.
The second issue at play is what Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer told the Straight is an increased level of violent crime in the area and deteriorating health conditions on the block.
“There is not a desire to force anyone [to move],” she said by phone. “There is a desire to support the safest possible environment.” Reimer denied that the actions described in Zak’s email are about moving vendors off the block.
The third factor is the demolition of a building that previously occupied 41 East Hastings, at the centre of the block. According to a report that went before city council in September 2013, that site—previously a three-storey building housing a ground-floor bottle depot—will soon host a 14-storey mixed-use building operated by Atira Development Society.
VPD Const. Brian Montague said the construction project will not leave room for vendors.
“There is going to be scaffolding there,” the force spokesperson told the Straight. “They are just not going to be able to be there anymore. So we are using it as an opportunity to encourage people to go to one of these three sites rather than making it a habit to go to that specific block.”
As the Straight went to press on November 17, city officials were still in the meeting with vendors and community members convened to discuss the project.
There at the Woodward’s Building, city communications manager Tobin Postma said there are now enough official locations for vending and so no longer any reason for unsanctioned vendors to line the block. VPD district commander Howard Chow confirmed that the force has increased patrols in the area. Addressing community concerns, Chow claimed that ticketing would not be used as a tactic for moving people along.
In a telephone interview, Roland Clarke, a coordinator for the Downtown Eastside Street Market Society, recounted watching the first day of the initiative unfold.
“There were at least five or six police officers visible on the block,” he said. Clarke added that they remained there for some time and their presence dissuaded people from stopping to sell goods.
“The city is rolling out a policy to really try and prevent the unsanctioned vending,” he concluded.
Clarke noted the market society has no formal interest in vending on the unit block but said it plays an informal role in keeping the peace in the area, given many people who occupy the strip are also registered members who participate in the sanctioned Sunday market on Carrall.
A video recorded on November 16 and shared with the Straight confirms Clarke’s account of November 16, showing the north side of the unit block completely cleared of vendors. When the Straight visited on November 17, VPD officers were stationed in pairs at either end of the block and for the second day in a row, the area remained empty.
Sarah Blyth is a member of the street market society’s board of directors and a former Vision Vancouver parks commissioner. She said the non-profit—which has more than 800 registered vendors—is trying to make the best of a bad situation.
“I think it is a push to get rid of the vendors on Hastings Street and to get them into 62 and 501 Powell,” she said. “The thing is, there is not enough space. So it’s really going to be difficult to do.”