Vancouver’s fire chief has ordered tents and other structures to be removed from a stretch of East Hasting Street, saying the move is necessary to avoid a potentially devastating situation if a blaze were to break out.
A bulletin from the city says plans were already underway to clear the area between Main and Carrall streets where a growing number of tents and structures have been set up by people experiencing homelessness since the beginning of July.
Monday’s order, a spokesperson writes, signals the urgent need to accelerate structure removal” and is due in part to decreased accessibility.
“Should a fire occur in the area in its current condition, it would be catastrophic, putting lives at risk and jeopardizing hundreds of units of much-needed housing,” the statement continues.
The City of Vancouver acknowledges that dismantling structures and telling people who likely have nowhere else to go will be a “complex” undertaking.
“The city will work with the community, non-profit organizations and partner government organizations to expedite structure removal and to offer additional support for those sheltering outdoors,” the statement reads.
“Supports will include day storage of personal belongings, and increasing public washrooms, misting stations, handwashing stations and water fountains in the area.”
No concrete deadline or timeline was provided.
The establishment of tent cities and encampments on the Downtown Eastside, the city spokesperson says, is a stark reminder of the lack of available, accessible and affordable housing for people who are poor or marginalized.
“The city has and will continue to advocate to senior government partners who have the jurisdiction, funding and responsibility for meaningful, life-changing interventions that are needed to address the key drivers of homelessness,” the bulletin continues.
In his own statement, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he supported the chief’s order but is aware of “the stress and difficulty this order will cause those living in the affected area.”
He went on to tout the progress the city has made on housing since he was elected, while saying he is advocating to senior levels of government for help finding housing for those who will be displaced when this order is carried out.
On July 1, officers with the Vancouver Police Department stopped accompanying city staff who walk this stretch of road and “remove garbage and structures.”