An encampment of more than 80 tents pitched in a vacant lot at 58 West Hastings Street will soon be dismantled.
On October 21, the City of Vancouver handed out letters to homeless campers, stating that they were to vacate the premises by Tuesday (October 25). On that day, city staff accompanied by police and firefighters entered the camp and began facilitating people’s relocations to shelters.
“The City must advise you that you do not have consent to be on the Property or to maintain tents or other structures on it,” reads a copy of the letter. “You are prohibited from continuing to do so under the City by-laws and the Trespass Act.
Despite that tough language, a spokesperson for the city told the Straight that so far nobody has been forcibly removed from the site.
“It’s going to be a slow process,” Tobin Postma explained in a telephone interview. “We’ve got a list of around 20 people today who have said they will be heading to the shelters tonight or tomorrow evening….And right now, we’re just working with them and giving them big totes and garbage bags and other things to collect their belongings.”
Organizers estimate there were approximately 150 people living on the city-owned site these past three months.
A city media release describes health and safety concerns at 58 West Hastings and notes that since the camp formed in mid-July, there have been 65 calls for police, including four assaults.
Maria Wallstam is an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project, one of several Downtown Eastside nonprofits that has helped maintain order at the camp. In a telephone interview, she acknowledged the city’s concerns as legitimate. “But I’m also not sure that people are going to be any safer isolated and by themselves on the streets,” Wallstam told the Straight.
She criticized the city’s pledge to move people from the camp into shelters.
“A lot of people at the tent city that I’ve talked to, they are there in tents precisely because they don’t want to stay in shelters,” Wallstam explained. “There are a lot of couples there who do not want to go to shelters because at shelters they are separated. And so a lot of these people are not going to go and sleep in shelters. They are going to be sleeping in back alleys.”
According to a May 2016 city report, there were 1,847 homeless people in Vancouver when the last count was conducted over a 24-hour period in March 2016. That was up from 1,600 in 2013.
On October 6, Vancouver’s chief housing officer, Mukhtar Latif, told the Straight that the city would be working with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, a registered charity, to develop 58 West Hastings with a low-rise tower consisting of 250 social-housing units plus an “integrated-health centre” and retail space on the ground floor.