One month after Vancouver’s fire chief issued a tent removal order for East Hastings Street, shelter space has been found for less than a quarter of the displaced residents.
In a media briefing Wednesday (Aug. 24), BC Housing’s vice president of operations Dale McMann said 40 particularly-vulnerable individuals are set to be moved into single room occupancy (SRO) sites.
He and the City of Vancouver estimate about 200 people were living in tents or other structures on East Hastings Street when the removal order came down on July 25.
At the time, BC Housing told Black Press Media shelter space in the city was “tight” and that they had been given very little notice before the order was issued. Since then, McMann said they’ve secured 20 shelter spots and are in the midst of readying 50 others, either in SROs or leased hotel spaces.
In delivering her order, Fire Chief Karen Fry said the number of structures along the sidewalks of East Hastings Street, particularly between Main and Carrall streets, were posing a serious safety risk. She said they blocked firefighter’s access to buildings, limited accessibility along the streets and increased the amount of combustible material in the area.
Fry identified 10 areas of particularly high risk, seven of which the city said Wednesday they have cleared of structures.
The city said it’s been working with unhoused people in the neighbourhood every day to help remove their structures and temporarily store their belongings, and that its made good progress in starting to clear the area. For now, residents’ compliance with the order is voluntary and city manager Paul Mochrie said there’s no timeline on that changing.
Meenakshi Mannoe, criminalization and policing campaigner with Pivot Legal Society, said the feeling amongst those being displaced is far from one of progress, however. She described the last month as “an atmosphere of terror.”
“I think it’s created a lot of tension within the neighbourhood, because people are being told to pack up and they have nowhere to go,” she told Black Press Media.
She said she agrees fire safety is important, but that displacing people from their only form of shelter and community also poses serious risks.
She also pointed out that some people are fearful of moving into SROs after numerous fires have torn through them this year, starting with the destruction of the Winters Hotel in April. Often situated in older buildings, SROs are also known for their lack of air-conditioning and pests.
Speaking at the Wednesday media briefing, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he recognizes current shelter space needs fixing and an overall greater supply is required. He said because only five per cent of housing stock in Vancouver is government owned, it makes it difficult for them to secure space quickly.
“It’s not coming fast enough, but that is the core of what we’re trying to do here – to get people in a better circumstance and recognizing the trauma that’s often led them to this circumstance,” he said.
He said the city is in discussions with the federal government and hoping to secure more funding soon.