Beginning on November 13, an increased police presence around the unit block of East Hastings Street has deterred people from street vending in the area. The following is an open letter written in response to that action taken by the city.
We, the undersigned, call on the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department to immediately stop the displacement, criminalization, and harassment of survival street vendors and all low-income people in the Downtown Eastside (DTES).
On November 16, 2015, the City of Vancouver launched a crackdown on street vendors and homeless people in the Downtown Eastside, effectively criminalizing and displacing all low-income survival street vendors along East Hastings. The City is justifying the measure by referring to the City-designated vending sites on 62 East Hastings Street, 501 Powell Street, and Pigeon Park. However, these sites are inadequate in size, have restricted hours, and are ultimately a way for the City to remove poor and homeless people disproportionately Indigenous and of colour from public spaces and contain street vending in hidden away sites.
Councillor Andrea Reimer has referred to a rise in arrests as evidence of growing safety concerns on the 300 block of East Hastings Street to justify the displacement of the survival street market. However, in the DTES more arrests are evidence only of more policing, and banning street vending doesn’t improve the safety of the low-income people who live in the community. Clearing sidewalk vendors only deepens the insecurity of those who are losing a vital source of income, who are pushed into the back alleys and now have to turn to other more dangerous types of survival work.
With condos opening up on the 100 block of East Hastings Street and new highend businesses opening throughout the DTES, we are wondering, safety for whom? According to Margaret, a street vendor on the zero block of East Hastings Street, “What space is safe for women nowadays? It’s not safe on Granville for a Native woman. It’s not safe on the West Side. Surrey is really unsafe for women, I’m scared to go there. But here on the block I have family and they get my back. Who else will look out for us but others who live in poverty?”
Indigenous people are disproportionately represented among the homeless population and disproportionately targeted by social cleansing policies such as these. On the unceded land of the Musqueam (xʷmәθkʷәy̓әm), TsleilWauthuth (Sәl̓ílwәtaʔ/Selilwitulh) and Squamish (Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw) peoples, the housing crisis is also a land crisis. Colonialism is ongoing; indigenous land continue to be occupied and indigenous people continue to be displaced, marginalized, incarcerated, go missing, and be murdered, not least in the Downtown Eastside.
However, the streets of the Downtown Eastside are also a place where people who have fled discrimination, harassment, and abuse feel comfortable. On Hastings Street they have claimed public space, they have created safe spaces in a violent world and belonging out of alienation. The ongoing “street cleaning” is not helping survival street vendors and low-income people in the community; it is dispersing, displacing, and separating families, friends, and entire support systems.
Rising rents, the continued loss of lowincome housing, closure of shops that cater to the low-income community, and stagnant and abysmally low welfare rates have made it increasingly hard for low-income people to survive and to make ends meet in Vancouver. As a result, an increasing number of people have resorted to binning, street vending, and sex work to simply survive.
Instead of addressing the underlying reasons for the expanding survival economy in Vancouver, the decision to outlaw survival street vending targets the people suffering the violent effects of colonialism, racism, poverty, structural unemployment, and the war on drugs. As Downtown Eastside artist Karen Ward recently said in a meeting with City staff, “the criminalization of street vending turns poor people into people who are against the law, simply because they are poor.”
We ask the City of Vancouver to listen to the 3,000 Downtown Eastside residents who have demanded that the DTES become a Social Justice Zone. A social justice zone is a place where people are not targeted and criminalized for being poor, and where the needs of the community come before the profits of developers and corporations. What is needed more than ever is social housing and higher welfare rates, not more police officers in our community.
End the criminalization of poverty and homelessness now.
Alliance Against Displacement BC
Association for People on Methadone
Carnegie Community Action Project
Chinatown Action Group Drug Users Resource Center (DURC) & DURC Political Action Group
No One is Illegal Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU)
Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS)