A small but vocal protest stopped the flow of traffic along East Hastings Street at Main for more than an hour this afternoon (November 20).
The demonstrators, mostly students from Simon Fraser University, said they were there in response to what they described as the city’s forced removal of vendors who once lined the unit block of Hastings between Carrall and Columbia streets.
“The recent police action displaced vendors along East Hastings Street and displaced everyone who was sleeping along this street as well,” said Amy Widmer, an SFU student and one of the protest organizers. “I don’t want to swear but this is bullshit. It’s another action to provide space for the wealthy.”
Before last Monday (November 16), the unit block was crowded with hawkers, many of whom survive off vending as their primary source of income. But beginning on that date, the City of Vancouver working with the Vancouver Police Department implemented a program that aims to keep the block free of street vending.
A heightened police presence was deployed to the area in an effort to deter crowds from congregating there. Meanwhile, the city made available two new sanctioned sites for vending. Those are at 62 East Hastings Street and 501 Powell Street. A third location open on Sundays at Pigeon Park will also continue to operate.
The November 20 protest began on the south side of the unit block of East Hastings Street near Carrall. Interviewed there, a well-known activist who calls himself Homeless Dave told the Straight the new sites the city is promoting don’t make up for the space they took from vendors by moving people from the unit block.
“This is a small marketplace,” he said of 62 East Hastings. “It’s much smaller than what’s required, it’s off the street to the side, and it isn’t frequented. It’s not visible.”
Dave similarly described the second new site, at 501 Pender Street, as “terrible”.
“There are no people there,” he said. “It is out of the way. People, the foot track around here and from Gastown, they’re not going to go there.”
From the south sidewalk of the unit block, a crowd of between 20 and 30 people moved into the street and blocked both lanes of traffic along East Hastings. The group then moved to 138 East Hastings and stopped there, continuing to impede vehicles.
Widmer said the demonstration targeted that address because it's an example of higher-income people moving into the Downtown Eastside in ways that push lower-income residents from the neighbourhood.
“We are at Sequel 138 because these condos are opening in three weeks and it is no coincidence that they [the city] are displacing all the vendors just before the opening of these condos,” she said. “This is the gentrification process.”
From the sidelines of the demonstration, Landon Hoyt, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, said he sympathizes with a lot of what the student demonstrators were saying.
“We understand the reasons for wanting to protest this kind of stuff,” he said. “We’ve worked with the Downtown Eastside Street Market for quite a while now. We’re all about finding income-generating opportunities in whatever form. And so the city providing this space that is safe and legal and checks all the boxes for these people to vend, we think it’s a really positive thing.”