Barely more than a handful of tents remain standing at 58 West Hastings Street.
Nearly four months after a group of homeless people occupied the vacant lot in early July, the City of Vancouver has mostly cleared the area and sought an injunction to evict the few people who remain.
At its peak, the city-owned property served as a home for an estimated 100 people living in dozens of tents (organizers claim there were more than 80, while officials say there were about 45).
City staff accompanied by police and firefighters began handing out eviction notices on October 21.
When the Georgia Straight visited the camp today (November 3), there were less than 10 tents left standing.
In a telephone interview, deputy city manager Paul Mochrie said the city is in court this afternoon applying for an injunction that would allow staff to remove the few people who remain in the camp. (Update: A B.C. Supreme Court judge has postponed making a decision on the city's request for an injunction. The campers have been told they can remain at 58 West Hastings until a new court date scheduled for November 14.)
“We’ve been working with individuals there…particularly a concerted effort over the last few weeks, to help people transition off that site into shelter,” he told the Straight. “There are a relatively small number now—less than 12 people—who are still staying there overnight and who have indicated they are not prepared to leave.”
Mochrie maintained that the city was prompted to begin evicting people because of health and safety concerns.
“It’s primarily a function of the deterioration of the conditions on the site,” he said. “If you’ve been by there, you’ve seen that it’s a truly awful place for people to be living.”
A city media release states that space for at least 30 of the campers was made available at a shelter at 49 West Cordova Street. Mochrie was not able to provide a number for how many people took advantage of those spaces.
In a previous interview with the Straight, Maria Wallstam, an organizer with the Carnegie Community Action Project, one of several Downtown Eastside nonprofits that has helped maintain order at the camp, said that most of the people who had pitched tents there did so specifically because they did not want to stay in 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.”
On August 3, Mayor Gregor Robertson met with Downtown Eastside residents and promised that 58 West Hastings would be developed as a site for social housing. One October 6, the city revealed the preliminary details of that plan. They said the goal is a 10- to 12-storey tower that hosts 250 units of supportive housing rented at the welfare rate of $375 a month. The financial viability of the project remains uncertain, with the city hoping for funding from the province and Ottawa.
The takeover of 58 West Hastings was reminiscent of a similar camp of homeless people that moved into Oppenheimer Park through the summer of 2014. That occupation saw as many as 200 tents pitched in the Downtown Eastside as part of what homeless people described as a call for affordable housing. After three months, campers were similarly served with eviction notices and forced to move on. Five people who refused to leave the park were arrested and removed by Vancouver police officers.
The lot at 58 West Hastings was previously home to another camp of homeless people back in 2010 during the run-up to Vancouver hosting the Winter Olympic Games.
This year, similar camps have been established in Victoria, Maple Ridge, and Surrey.
The city has said that its plans for social housing for the lot should go to council before the end of June 2017.
According to May 2016 city report, there were 1,847 homeless people in Vancouver when the last count was conducted over a 24-hour period on March 10, 2016. Of those, 1,308 were sleeping in shelters and 539 were on the street. The total of 1,847 homeless people is up from 1,746 in 2015, 1,803 in 2014, and 1,600 in 2013.