Vancouver homeless shelters overwhelmed amid Downtown Eastside decampment and rainfall event

Apr 10 2023, 12:00 am

Homeless shelters that have been under stress for months are doing what they can to keep people in Vancouver dry amid this weekend’s rainfall event and the ongoing decampment in the Downtown Eastside. 

Nicole Mucci with Union Gospel Mission told Daily Hive Urbanized that the organization’s shelter has been consistently full for the past 15 months, but it was under even more stress this weekend. 

“Friday night into Saturday morning we had people sleeping in our hallway. Like we were so full and we found as many extra mats as we could to accommodate as many extra people … and then we still ended up having to turn away some folks,” she explained. 

Thankfully because emergency weather shelters are open due to the rainfall event, UGM has found alternative options for people they could not accommodate. However, while it’s helpful this weekend, Mucci emphasizes, “long term, it’s not going to make a difference.”

“We’ve seen that a lot of the places that we were calling around to we’re also full in terms of just like the other regular shelters that operate every day of the year,” she explained.

Mucci added that apart from needing shelter, many people cleared out of the tent city need basic essentials now. 

“Because if they did have their stuff decamped, it meant that many of them lost just about everything,” she said. “So they were like, do you have toothbrushes? Do you socks? Do you have underwear? … People were still also really looking for warm jackets and they were hoping to find sleeping bags or anything that could keep them dry, because even if they stay in the shelter overnight, there’s still parts throughout the day and the weekend where they might be outside and it’s been really awful weather.”

This weekend UGM hosted its 33rd Annual Easter Meal. However, “it was less celebratory than usual,” Mucci admitted. 

“The weather was particularly gross [Saturday], which was kind of tough. We also had the decampment going on … so people were in pretty somber moods,” she said. 

UGM expected to serve around 2,500 meals but Mucci said fewer folks attended than expected. 

While it has been a devastating week for many in the area, Mucci said there was an appreciation for being able to find community.

“What we did see was that for those who were able to come and connect with our volunteers and with our staff, it was particularly meaningful. There were a few different conversations I saw happen when people got pretty emotional just talking about being glad to still have somewhere that they come.”

Since Wednesday, City of Vancouver crews, with the support of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), have been removing all remaining tents and structures at the Hastings Street encampment in the Downtown Eastside. Anyone returning to camp in the area over the days following the initial decampment day has seen their tents and structures promptly removed.

The street encampment in the area first began about nine months ago, and it has been associated with a spike in illicit and violent activity in the area. According to the VPD, there has been a 9% increase in assaults in the Downtown Eastside since the encampment began, with the encampment zone accounting for 28% of all assaults in the area. There has also been an increase in weapons from tents in the zone being used to commit crimes.

A recent survey by Atira Women’s Society found all respondents reported feeling unsafe and having experienced violence, including sexual assault.

In addition, the encampment’s tents and structures posed a major fire risk to adjacent buildings. More than 400 outdoor fires occurred on Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside over the past eight months, with fires occurring regular and increasing in intensity due to an accumulation of materials and propane tanks.

Nikitha MartinsNikitha Martins

+ News
+ Politics
+ City Hall
+ Urbanized