Forty people who were living in a street encampment on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that is being cleared by city workers have accepted offers of accommodation, BC Housing says.
The provincial Crown agency’s vice-president of operations, Dale McCann, spoke at a press conference Wednesday at city hall, where Mayor Kennedy Stewart reported “good progress” clearing the street in accordance with a safety order by the city’s fire chief.
Stewart said the clearance operation that began on Aug. 9 was an “extremely challenging situation” that had only become more complex.
City manager Paul Mochrie said workers were removing two tonnes of material per day from the encampment on East Hastings Street.
Mochrie said it was difficult to say precisely how many tents and structures had been removed, but seven out of 10 zones deemed the highest risk had been cleared.
About 200 people were estimated to have been living in the encampment, but he said the situation was fluid, with new structures being erected even as others were being removed.
However, Mochrie said there had been steady and consistent progress in the clearance operation.
Stewart said there was no way to clear the street in a hurry, and the core principle of the operation was one of compassion.
“They are real people who need our help,” said Stewart of the encampment’s residents.
“It’s a very painful process for people that are already experiencing trauma and this is only adding to their burden of life.”
Mochrie said the situation in the Hastings encampment was part of a “fundamental systemic challenge” extending beyond the Downtown Eastside, but in July the camp grew substantially.
He reported “increasing resistance” to city workers that resulted in sidewalks becoming essentially impassable, blocked by large volumes of unsanitary and combustible materials.
Violence had been on the rise, said Mochrie, posing an “immediate and serious risk” both to people on the street and others living and working nearby.
Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry told the press conference her July order to clear the street was triggered by a “severe risk of loss of life,” which included blocked exits, inaccessible fire department connections, and propane and gasoline being stored in tents.
There had been an average of 4.5 fires per day in the area, she said, citing a blaze on Monday that displaced dozens of people. That fire was linked to improperly stored combustible material, she added.
“It’s not a matter of if a fire is going to happen, it’s when it is going to happen,” Fry said.
She said workers had been training camp residents how to use fire extinguishers.