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'Threatened with bodily harm': Vancouverites express safety concerns about new tent city

"I'm sick of having this conflict every time I come out of my building," says a local woman in a video.
The encampment stretches down Hastings between Main and Abbott streets and residents and business owners say the area is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Locals are expressing safety concerns about a growing tent city in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The expanding encampment currently stretches down Hastings between Main and Abbott streets and several residents and business owners say the area is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Alkarim Tejani is a floor manager at the Vancouver Pharmacy, a methadone clinic located at 67 E Hastings St. He told Vancouver Is Awesome that people who work at the clinic fear for their safety and patients have difficulty accessing its services. 

"[The patients] are forced to come to the clinic every day," he explained, noting that the program only provides patients with a day's supply of medication to prevent overdoses.

Since the tent city has grown, the clinic's employees have faced threats when they come to work, said Tejani. "They are threatened with bodily harm out there when they tell some people [to] move so we can open the door."

In addition to employees, patients face difficulty accessing the services and missing a dose can have tragic consequences. "There should be safe zones around pharmacies," he noted. 

Wendy Stewart lives at 40 East Hastings and says the "street activity" and tents have increased since September 2021.

"We have Native elders in our building who suffer the stress of this daily leaving their homes," she wrote in a tweet

The local artist also shared images of garbage littered on the street in the area. 

In a video, Stewart says someone threw a battery at her while she was walking her four-month-old puppy. 

"All I'm trying to do is take my dog out for a walk," says the exasperated local in the video.

"I'm sick of having this conflict every time I come out of my building."

Some time ago, the City of Vancouver asked the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to accompany sanitation workers as they picked up garbage along a stretch of East Hastings Street due to safety concerns. But advocates said personal belongings were thrown away during street sweeps and they disproportionately affected Indigenous people, Black people, People of Colour, drug users, 2SLGBTQ+, and people with disabilities. 

The city vowed to find an alternative way to clear the area following public outcry. As of July 1, police stopped accompanying city workers on street sweeps. 

VPD spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin told V.I.A. that officers in the DTES make "public safety their top priority" by responding to 911 emergencies and investigating crimes.

"Although the growing number of tents and garbage along East Hastings Street is unsightly and unsanitary, being homeless is not a crime," she said. 

In regard to street sweeps, the constable said the VPD "long argued" they were an inappropriate use of its resources but "temporarily obliged the request."

New Vancouver tent city emerges after others are cleared

Almost one week after hundreds of homeless people were cleared from Oppenheimer Park in the DTES in mid-May of 2020, a new tent city continued to expand in the parking lot near Crab Park. In June 2020, the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction requiring the new encampment residents to relocate. After they did, however, another tent city emerged in Strathcona park; it took roughly 18 months to clear. 

In a statement, BC Housing said it is working with its partners to reach out to people in the Hastings encampment to offer indoor housing, fire prevention, and other support, adding that it had moved 300 people indoors from Strathcona Park. 

"Since then, BC Housing has maintained our housing intake process and people sheltering outdoors have been encouraged to connect with outreach teams to move into an indoor space," explains an email to V.I.A. "BC Housing can confirm that there are spaces available in supportive housing, social housing, SROs, and shelters.

"Those spaces are being offered to people experiencing and at risk of homelessness."

BC Housing added that it has opened 1,400 support housing units in the city since 2018 and 700 spaces for people experiencing homelessness are underway.

In a previous interview, a tent city resident told V.I.A. that the tent city she stayed in was one of the few places people experiencing homelessness could safely go without danger of daily street sweeps destroying or removing their belongings.

Other advocates for people experiencing homelessness have argued that there are numerous issues with Vancouver's single-room-occupancy (SRO) residences that prevent individuals from wanting to move into or stay in them.

Over 140 Gastown SRO residents were displaced after a four-alarm fire broke out in a tenant's room on the second floor of a four-storey building on April 11. Former tenants told V.I.A. that they didn't hear fire alarms and fires were not uncommon.

On July 11, a DTES resident shared a video and noted that it "shouldn't be dangerous just trying to get home."

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