Number of reported assaults, fires, and overdoses drop following Hastings decampment

Apr 14 2023, 7:35 pm

More than a week after City of Vancouver crews and Vancouver police officers moved in on the Downtown Eastside in an effort to put an end to the Hastings Street encampment, there has been a significant drop in the reported number of assaults, fires, and overdoses in the area.

In an update today on the decampment process, the municipal government states Vancouver police have not recorded any stabbings or serious assaults within the encampment area since April 5 when significant labour resources were deployed to remove structures and tents on the sidewalks.

As well, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services confirmed there has been a drop of about 30% in fires within the Downtown Eastside and a decrease of nearly 60% in outdoor fires in Vancouver overall over the past week, as well as 27 fewer overdose-related calls over the week of April 3 to 9 compared to the previous week and 82 fewer overdose-related calls compared to two weeks earlier.

Fire, police, and City officials, including Mayor Ken Sim, previously suggested the situation at the encampment, which first began in July 2022, reached a breaking point in terms of the escalating frequency of dangerous outdoor fires that posed a major safety risk to campers and surrounding buildings, and the growing hotspot for criminal activity, especially with the number of violent and sexual assaults.

Since last summer, fire officials, in particular, warned of an immense fire risk to old housing buildings in the area, and at the time initially urged for an “immediate” decampment, which was essentially cancelled following an outcry over a lack of shelter and/or housing capacity.

But over the days leading up to and since the decampment process began, both Sim and BC Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon suggested available shelter capacity has since changed, and shelter accommodations are relatively safer compared to the encampment.

“Shelters are a dignified and safer option compared to encampments. In the case of the encampment, accepting shelter is a first step to connecting individuals with longer-term housing solutions,” reiterated the City in its update today.

“Shelters provide a safer and more conducive environment for staff to understand and meet a unique individual’s needs before referring them to a suitable option. The City hopes that going forward advocates will encourage people to accept shelter and move indoors so we can better work to connect people to the supports they need.”

Since August 2022, over 90 people in the encampment accepted and moved into housing, and over 165 people accepted referrals to shelter. During the decampment operations last week, an additional 18 people accepted shelter offers, according to the City.

Last week, City crews removed 94 “entrenched structures” and removed 50 propane tanks from the encampment, and provided over 70 large wheeled “personal storage totes” (repurposed garbage cans) to individuals, with additional belongings either impounded for future access or if permission was granted, disposed of.

On a daily basis, City crews have removed an average of 2.5 tonnes of garbage from the encampment.

But over the past week and a half, following the major decampment operation, some individuals have returned to the encampment to re-establish structures and tents.

The municipal government firmly states it will prevent the reformation of the encampment, with City crews continuing to remove new structures when they are erected.

“The City has an obligation to keep City sidewalks clear and ensure building entrances and fire connections are accessible as per the Fire Chief’s Order and Street and Traffic By-law. This work is not unique to the Downtown Eastside and is critical in terms of addressing life and fire risks and ensuring neighbourhoods are safe and accessible to all,” continues the update.

While the efforts are focused on decamping Hastings Street near Main Street, there are reports of structures and tents popping up in other areas of the Downtown Eastside and elsewhere in Vancouver.

The decampment operation has been billed as an option of last resort due to the worsening conditions. But there has been stern opposition from activist organizations in the area, and as of today, academics are also weighing in.

In an open letter, over 700 academics from 58 universities across the country, including many professors from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, are asking the City of Vancouver to immediately halt the decampment operations.

This also specifically includes prominent signers across fields such as health and social sciences, law, medicine, and urban studies, who highlight in their open letter the impacts of government divestment from affordable housing and erosion of income security as the root causes of homelessness in Vancouver. They suggest the forced evictions go against public health best practices as they elevate the risk of harm and violate Indigenous rights and international law.

Former Mayor Kennedy Stewart, who is now the Director of Centre for Public Policy Research at Simon Fraser University, called the decampment “cruel” and “genocidal.”

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

+ News
+ Politics
+ Crime
+ City Hall
+ Urbanized