New tent city forming on Hastings Street in the DTES

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As the number of homeless people in the DTES grows, concerns over adequate sanitation, access to water and the health and safety of people left largely to fend for themselves on the streets of the city ​​are also increasing.

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On a recent morning, tents stretched along the sidewalks of Hastings Street for two blocks from Main to Carrall streets.

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Makeshift structures constructed from tarps, umbrellas and other materials offered some privacy and some protection from the weather. A handful of venues had propane stoves or heaters – the kind you see on restaurant patios – and at one venue, a plate of food sat on a table surrounded by chairs.

Belongings were stacked on shelves or packed into shopping carts as people moved around, sometimes weaving through narrow paths between tents and other structures. The only public restrooms available nearby are at the Carnegie Community Center on Main, which closes at 11 p.m.

As the number of homeless people in the Downtown Eastside grows, concerns over adequate sanitation, access to water, and the health and safety of people left largely to fend for themselves on the streets of the city are also increasing.

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“Toilets that are only available when the community center is open are not acceptable,” Fiona York, project coordinator at the Carnegie Action Center, said in an email.

Outside the Regent Hotel on East Hastings Street as tents are pitched on the sidewalks for two blocks in Vancouver on July 6.
Outside the Regent Hotel on East Hastings Street as tents are pitched on the sidewalks for two blocks in Vancouver on July 6. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO/PNG

Postmedia News counted about 70 temporary homes along the two-block stretch of Hastings on Wednesday, including marquees, makeshift structures made from tarps and at least 55 tents.

“For a similar number of people (around 70) at CRAB Park, there are three potty-bearers and two permanent toilets being built,” York said.

Dave Hamm, vice-president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, thinks portable toilets, like the one in Oppenheimer Park, should be installed at the corner of Columbia and Hastings streets.

“As long as there is the infrastructure for water and plumbing,” he said, “it should be a no-brainer. It should go there now.

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“There are many examples of effective sanitary facilities,” York said, noting a pilot project with overnight showers and toilets behind the Astoria Hotel. “Even Strathcona Park had a warm-up center, showers and restrooms.”

A second public restroom, in nearby Pigeon Park, is currently out of service. City officials were unable to say when it was last accessed, but a 2011 Postmedia article quotes Hamm as saying the unit was barely functioning at that time.

“Wow,” Hamm said, “11 years ago we were still asking for a toilet.”

Outside the Regent Hotel on East Hastings Street as tents are pitched on the sidewalks for two blocks in Vancouver on July 6.
Outside the Regent Hotel on East Hastings Street as tents are pitched on the sidewalks for two blocks in Vancouver on July 6. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO/PNG

Mary Clare Zak, general manager of social policy and projects for the City of Vancouver, said at least one toilet trailer would soon be deployed and it would provide ‘direct access to a space that is needed now’ .

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“We were able to get the trailer and the financing that’s going to be needed to go along with it,” Zak said. “We have at least one location and we may have an option for another.”

The lack of proper sanitation in the neighborhood is just one of the issues facing the city and local residents as homelessness and the number of people living in this stretch of Hastings continues to grow.

“We are currently at an all-time high in homelessness,” York said.

She said the recent fire at the Winters Hotel and the closure of the London Hotel, as well as rising rents, are all contributing factors.

A recent city ​​council decision ending the controversial practice of daily “street sweeps”, in which city workers, accompanied by Vancouver police, were accused of tearing down and dumping unattended tents and other personal belongings found in the street, probably contributed to it.

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“People aren’t moving their tents anymore and they can stay in them longer,” said Matthew Smedley, CEO of Mission Possible, a local nonprofit group.

There are two water fountains on the two-block stretch, one at Pigeon Park and another at the Carnegie Community Center. Without enough bins, waste ends up on the sidewalk and in the street.

  1. Sanitation workers clean the sidewalks of the Downtown Eastside on June 19, 2022. These city workers are different from the city's engineering department 'street sweepers'.

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

  2. Fay Burns and her dog Mr. Boo sit inside their last tent on the sidewalk of East Hastings Street between Columbia and Carroll in Vancouver.

    Vancouver councilor calls for an end to street sweeps of homeless property in the Downtown Eastside

The city deployed additional bins along Hastings earlier this week and will provide “trash bags, gloves and other cleaning tools to stewards and community organizations,” said Taryn Scollard, deputy chief engineering officer. , in a press release.

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The city’s sanitation workers come by daily to sweep trash from sidewalks and streets, but the growing number of tents sometimes makes access difficult.

Zak said the city is working with community groups and nonprofits to support “micro-cleaning” initiatives that will see community members and organizations take responsibility for keeping particular stretches of the street free. garbage or structures, such as tents, that block the sidewalk. Money previously allocated to VPD officers to support city staff will be used to fund the new initiatives, at a significantly lower cost.

Smedley said the VPD’s sudden announcement that officers would stop accompanying city workers on street sweeps meant “everyone was caught off guard.”

“There was not enough time to do any planning to have a smooth transition to a better approach, a more respectful and humane approach,” he said. “And so everyone is scrambling right now.”

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