Evicted Hastings Street campers are searching for new homes

Residents kicked of Hastings tents face more uncertainty after city ousts them from the tent encampment

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By THEA CATIPON

As the City of Vancouver continues to evict people from the Hastings Street tent encampment, those being ousted say they have nowhere to go. At least, nowhere safe.

The city, which has been attempting to remove people from the tent encampment on Hastings since last August, is suggesting people head to shelters or single-room occupancy housing, or SROs. But advocates and those being moved say those options are not viable.

Stuart Panko, who was recently evicted from his tent on Hastings, said that given the option of a shelter or an SRO, he would stay in his tent.

 “I feel safer on the street,” Panko said Monday at a press conference held by drug user advocacy group VANDU.

Monday, bins provided by the city were filled with evicted tent residents’ belongings. Tents with signs reading “This tent is my home” were taken down.

Ryan Sudds, an organizer for encampment advocacy group Stop the Sweeps, said he has seen one person whose tent was being taken down in the middle of the rain refusing to move for 20 minutes despite having police and city staff surrounding him.

 “He just didn’t want his home stolen,” Sudds said. 

Sudds said a police car with a mental nurse was subsequently called because the resident was purportedly in a mental health crisis.

 The city will continue to “clear structures” and remove residents from their tents until the encampment’s eventual closing, according to a statement released by the City of Vancouver.

But multiple advocacy groups, including VANDU and Stop the Sweeps, say leaked documents from the city showed plans for a more aggressive approach expected to begin Tuesday. The documents appear to show police will become more involved in removing people and structures, according to VANDU.

Downtown Eastside housing advocate Fiona York says the possible police involvement could simply lead residents to shuffle to side streets, shelters or somewhere less safe to prevent a violent interaction with police and enforcers.

 “That may or may not be a long-term option for them,” York said. “But they may do that because they’re faced with this forceful, but potentially violent police eviction.”

 It may also steer residents to less visible places and from which they will emerge to simply access community workers and services available to them, she said. 

 “I think for the most part people will just become more isolated and less visible,” York said.

 The Voice reached out to the Vancouver Police Department and spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison for an interview but did not receive a response by print deadline.

 However, according to a statement sent by the City of Vancouver, the actions in the decampment of East Hastings are in line with the city’s policy to address a “life safety risk.”

 The city has been encouraging voluntary removal of the structures placed around the city and has since removed 600 structures since August, according to a city email. The city has linked unsafely stored propane tanks to recent dangerous fires in the area. It has also blamed the encampment for multiple assaults and noted an increase in weapon possession in the neighbourhood.

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