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Vancouver DTES tent city to be cleared by Wednesday, but residents say there’s nowhere to go – BC

Vancouver officials are doubling down on Monday’s order to clear a growing tent city on the 100 block of East Hastings Street this week, but residents say they have no other housing options to turn to.

Officials said Tuesday that Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry’s order to remove tents and other temporary structures from the sidewalk must be complied with by Wednesday, citing the “significant fire safety risk” in the area.

“Because of the increasing risk to the unhoused people who are in the area, to the residents who occupy that area, to the people who are in the SROs and buildings, as well as businesses and buildings adjacent to these structures, the fire chief’s order was issued to try to mitigate as much risk to those areas as possible,” said Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services spokesperson Matthew Trudeau.

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Vancouver fire chief orders DTES tent city to be cleared, cites ‘catastrophic’ safety risk

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Despite the expectation that the order will be complied with by Wednesday, it was not made clear how the order will be enforced.

Tents and other temporary structures have long been a fixture of East Hastings Street, but a number of permanent tents and the scale of the encampment have grown rapidly since the start of July.

That’s when Vancouver police ceased supporting city engineering workers conducting daily so-called “street sweeps,” the controversial practice the city says is necessary to clean up trash and discarded items, but which some neighbourhood advocates say involves targeting the homeless and taking their belongings.

Since then, some neighbourhood residents have complained about difficulty accessing their buildings or even travelling down the sidewalk.

Click to play video: 'New tent city appears along Hastings in Vancouver'

New tent city appears along Hastings in Vancouver

New tent city appears along Hastings in Vancouver – Jul 7, 2022

Residents of the tent encampment, meanwhile, say it is exceedingly difficult to live inside poorly-ventilated SRO units during the hot summer months, which pose a health risk.

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The city said Monday it will offer additional supports “for those sheltering outdoors.”

Daytime storage of personal items, more public washrooms, misting stations and handwashing and drinking fountains are among the supports the city says it will offer.

Yet speaking after Trudeau’s press conference Tuesday, housing advocates said no options for emergency, short-term or long-term housing have been offered to those being displaced by the order.

“Neither the province nor the city can identify a single housing option,” said Meenakshi Mannoe of the Pivot Legal Society, which offers legal support for Downtown Eastside residents and people experiencing homelessness.

“Zero. Let’s be very clear: zero.”

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Vancouver has a new tent city. This time it’s in the street, not a park

Mannoe said the lack of proper emergency housing during an ongoing heat wave — with temperatures exceeding 30 C across Metro Vancouver and nearly the rest of B.C. — makes the order particularly ill-timed.

She added housing advocates and representatives of the tent encampment didn’t learn about the fire order until midway through a meeting Monday afternoon, around the time the order was made public.

“How is that respectful community relations?” she asked.

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“When we look at a fire order like this, we see it as part of a political game that’s being played with people’s lives.”

Click to play video: 'Man stabbed after tensions rise on East Hastings'

Man stabbed after tensions rise on East Hastings

Man stabbed after tensions rise on East Hastings – Jul 13, 2022

Vancouver councillor Pete Fry told Global News he sympathizes with the plight of those being forced to find a new place to shelter, but pointed to “deeply systemic issues” of housing availability, mental health and addictions that require senior government intervention and investment.

“We need to be all-hands-on-deck and really working together with senior governments, with (Vancouver) Coastal Health, to figure out something better — because this isn’t working,” he said.

“Clearly there’s a demonstrable need, (but) it can’t be the City of Vancouver that continues to carry this for the region or the province. So we need a bigger approach than what the city can do alone.”

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At the same time, Fry said Fry’s order to clear the East Hastings Street encampment was “100 per cent bang on.”

“This is very unsafe,” he said. “I’ve been down there a couple of times in the last few days, and it’s untenable. There’s far too many people, there’s too many things and stuff … and the risk of fire (and) a risk to life and property is very significant.”

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Man in wheelchair stabbed as tensions rise at East Hastings Street tent city

In a statement of his own Monday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he supported the order, but recognized the impact it would have on DTES residents.

Stewart touted the city’s partnerships with senior levels of government to fund non-market and modular homes, but acknowledged the demand for affordable and supportive housing continues to outstrip supply.

He called on non-profit housing providers to assess their available options to help address the increased need created by the order.

— with files from Emad Agahi and Simon Little

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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