City of Vancouver vows to find alternative to DTES ‘street sweeps’

“We sincerely regret and apologize for any harm and trauma that has been created as a result of this work and recognize important items have been discarded,” said the city.

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The City of Vancouver said it is working to find an alternative to the controversial practice of “street sweeps” in the Downtown Eastside and apologized to those whose personal belongings may have been removed.

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It said frontline street crews are trained to remove material that has been abandoned, but acknowledged that some of the items that were discarded may have been important possessions.

“We sincerely regret and apologize for any harm and trauma that has been created as a result of this work and recognize important items have been discarded,” said Taryn Scollard, deputy general manager of engineering, in a statement.

The engineering services department, which is responsible for clearing the streets and sidewalks, is working with residents and organizations like the Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to identify “long-term solutions and alternative service models to create a respectful approach that supports those experiencing homelessness and keeps them and their belongings safe while keeping streets clear and accessible for everyone,” added Scollard.

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The results of those discussions are expected in the coming weeks.

Scollard also confirmed that starting July 1, city staff will no longer be accompanied by Vancouver police officers on the sweeps, which Coun. Jean Swanson referred to as a “harmful practice.”

In a motion, Swanson said there have been reports of important items such as family memorabilia, identification documents, blankets, sleeping bags and assistive devices like walkers “inappropriately confiscated and destroyed” by sweepers.

“I’ve actually seen, before I was elected, city workers take people’s tents and sleeping bags and clothes when they’re basically ordered to do it by their boss, which is the city…” Swanson said during a council meeting on Tuesday.  “One city worker told me what they’re doing is like playing whack-a-mole because the folks have to be somewhere and they have to keep moving them.”

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Swanson said the city should take a second look at its bylaws banning structures on sidewalks.

She acknowledged garbage pickup was important, but suggested it could be done in the Downtown Eastside by “peers” in “micro-cleaning initiatives.”

Swanson’s motion called for the creation of guidelines around confiscation, including giving people at least 24 hours notice before seizure of their belongings, providing a receipt with details of what was taken, and instructions on how to retrieve them.

It also called for the establishment of a secure storage facility and expansion of seating areas, green spaces and washroom facilities in the Downtown Eastside.

Scollard’s statement indicated staff will incorporate items from Swanson’s motion, although it did not provide details on which recommendations it would include.

Swanson’s motion was referred to staff for consideration in an upcoming council report on the issue.

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan

— with files from Susan Lazaruk

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