BC government urging Downtown Eastside campers to move into available shelters

Mar 26 2023, 8:24 pm

As of last week, the number of tents and structures on the Hastings Street homeless encampment in the Downtown Eastside has fallen to 74 from the peak of 180 in July 2022.

There are 117 people currently living in the tents and structures in this encampment, with 70 expressing a desire for housing. To date, over 90 people living outside on Hastings Street have accepted housing offers and moved into those homes.

To the north, the number of people living at the Crab Park homeless encampment has fallen to 20 people.

In a press conference today, Ravi Kahlon, the BC minister of housing, provided an update on the situation, following a spike in crime, including violent and sexual assaults, as well as fire and explosive incidents in the encampments in recent weeks.

Kahlon said 330 new homes will be available by the end of June for people in the Downtown Eastside, which will provide the housing capacity required to accommodate those who remain outside.

But until then, Kahlon is urging those living in the encampments to move into indoor shelters, which he says are comparatively safer than the devolving situation in the encampments.

“Right now, we have shelter spaces available for those who are in encampments. We’re actively encouraging them to take those spaces. We can say with confidence that it’s much safer for them to be in those shelters than in encampments,” said the Minister during the press conference.

“I can assure people, certainly those in Crab Park and definitely those on Hastings Street, that the shelter spaces are much safer than what’s happening on Hastings Street right now. We know that we’ve seen an increase in fires and crime-related issues.”

Mayor Ken Sim says the City of Vancouver has been working with the provincial government to approach the situation in a “very empathetic way,” while also adding that there are also some individuals who do not want to move into new housing for a variety of reasons.

“You’ll see our engineering staff give residents of the Downtown Eastside a lot of notice. We make sure wherever possible, we can lead them into the right direction, provide spaces for their belongings, and do it in a very emphatic way,” said Sim.

“I do want to stress that we have been working on this for awhile, and while we still have work to do with people who legitimately need housing and supports, we’re also seeing increasing levels of aggression, and there are individuals who actually don’t want housing as well. As we get through the process, it does get more challenging, but we’re working on it.”

The 330 new homes that will open by early Summer 2023 include 89 units within the previously announced two temporary supportive housing projects — opening south of SkyTrain Main Street-Science World Station and west of SkyTrain Olympic Village Station — as well as a mix of renovated SRO units and other supportive housing units.

Other measures include the creation of a new multidisciplinary team to help people transition into indoor spaces and access healthcare and supportive services, and expand the addictions treatment capacity at St. Paul’s Hospital, with the first 45 beds opening by Fall 2023.

Vancouver Fire Rescue officials warned in July 2022 the Hastings Street encampment posed major fire hazard to residents and the old buildings in the area. An order was given for the “immediate removal” of the tents and structures, but it was never fully enforced following an outcry over the lack of options for campers to move into and the poor living conditions of SROs.

“It is a significant fire risk. What’s going on in the tents, with propane tanks, when these things catch fire, it actually puts the buildings that are out there, the housing, at risk of fire, and it’s dangerous for everyone — not just the people in the tents, but it puts lives and much-needed housing stock at risk,” said Sim today.

As well, a recent survey of women living in Downtown Eastside encampments shows all 50 women surveyed were sexually assaulted.

In January 2022, a BC Supreme Court judge rejected the Vancouver Park Board’s application for an injunction to clear out the Crab Park, asserting that the Park Board was unable to prove the campers had been given available adequate shelter options.

But Kahlon suggested today things have since changed.

“We’ve been able to house [Crab Park campers] as well. We continue to offer supports and services, and offers to them to move into housing are being made now. We are encouraging them to take them,” the Minister reiterated.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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