City hands control of Downtown Eastside street markets to Portland Hotel Society

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      The Downtown Eastside Street Market Society is a small nonprofit that has played a big role in minimizing street disorder in the Downtown Eastside.

      For five years, it has operated the Sunday market on Carrall Street. More recently, the society opened two additional city-sanctioned sites for vending, at 62 East Hastings Street and 501 Powell Street, which allowed the City of Vancouver to clear the once-crowded unit block of East Hastings of unsanctioned street vendors.

      Today (February 18) the City of Vancouver announced that the society will no longer operate with the autonomy it has enjoyed up until this point.

      Control of the group has been handed to the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), the nonprofit that operates Insite and a number of hotels along East Hastings and throughout the Downtown Eastside.

      In a letter addressed to the community, Mary Clare Zak, managing director of social policy for the City of Vancouver, states that PHS will run all three market sites on an “interim temporary” basis.

      The city is accepting proposals from groups that are interested in taking over the markets for the long term.

      “The City will ensure that more than one organization is responsible for operating the markets to provide choices for vendors and customers, and to ensure inclusivity for all DTES residents,” Zak’s letter reads.

      It also states the city is open to seeing a fourth market location open; one that would be run entirely by women.

      “The City recognizes the importance of innovation in testing new approaches as well as gender inclusion, and the significant need & benefits of a women’s market in the DTES,” it reads. “We are in support of an emergent effort by community partners interested in piloting a market that is designed and lead by women.”

      In a telephone interview, Sarah Blyth, a society board member and former park commissioner, said the group reached out to PHS to ask for management assistance during a time of transition.

      “We wanted to have a partner to help us with administration,” she said. “So they stepped in to help.

      Blyth, who also works for PHS as a coordinator, said that at least for the interim, PHS was a natural pick because many members of street vendors live in hotels staffed by PHS.

      Meanwhile, the city may finally be acting on long-delayed plans to relocate the Sunday market that for years has operated on Carrall Street.

      In an email obtained by the Straight, Zak addresses residents’ concerns about the Sunday market and writes that it won’t be long before the city acts on the matter.

      “To be clear from our end, the market on Pigeon will move,” Zak wrote on February 8. “Given the change in leadership and the fact that the City is going to be advertising for expressions of interest for market operators, we will finalize this prior to this move taking place.”

      A snapshot of the unit block of East Hastings captured by Google in May 2015 shows what the strip of vendors looked like before the city said it would no longer tolerate the crowds of merchants there.
      Google Street View

      News of the market society going to PHS follows a dispute that began among market society board members and then spilled over to involve staff at city hall.

      As the Straight reported on January 28, the city sent a letter to the board that outlined “significant concerns that the City has regarding the Society’s capacity to govern itself effectively, implement an appropriate code of conduct and good business practices, and form partnerships with other agencies.”

      According to that January 27 letter, the city is considering a budget for the markets of up to $14,500 per month, which amounts to a maximum of $174,000 annually.

      In 2014, B.C. Housing somewhat similarly stripped PHS of much of its autonomy after the provincial government publicized evidence of financial irregularities committed by PHS senior-level staff. Today, PHS operates under a close working relationship with Vancouver Coastal Health.

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