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Vancouver police, city workers return to Downtown Eastside for 2nd phase of encampment clearing

Police and city workers were back on Vancouver's East Hastings Street on Thursday morning, continuing to clear remaining tents, temporary structures and a handful of residents who had returned to the area the night before.

Province says 36 people were removed during Wednesday's clearing of tents and structures on East Hastings

City workers are seen removing a tent from East Hastings Street, Thursday April 6, 2023.

Police and city workers were back on Vancouver's East Hastings Street on Thursday morning, continuing to clear remaining tents, temporary structures and a handful of residents who had returned to the area the night before.

It follows a co-ordinated effort that began Wednesday morning to remove an encampment from the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, after officials cited public safety concerns and an increase in the number of fires in the area.

Officers with the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) blocked off East Hastings between Main Street and Gore Avenue as crews set up a staging area around 9 a.m. PT Thursday.

"The VPD will be present to ensure safety and enforce the Streets and Traffic Bylaw as necessary," a statement from the City of Vancouver said.

Outreach staff are still working to find shelter options for the homeless people who were displaced the day before, according to the city.

B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon says his understanding from the city is that 36 people were removed Wednesday. The city says eight people had asked for accommodation and it had been supplied.

"We have dedicated spaces available for people, so when folks on the front lines identify someone who says they need housing, we're able to get them into shelters right away," said Kahlon.

John Henry says he has been a resident of the East Hastings encampment since last July and plans to return again after its been cleared.

Vancouver's fire chief says the city has been trying to clear that stretch of East Hastings for eight months and "no one expected yesterday's action would be the end of it."

"This is something that's going to take time to do," Karen Fry said.

"We are going to have to address individuals and try to get them into safer areas … probably on a daily situation."

Wednesday's operation was the culmination of eight months of tensions over the encampment, and the fourth major one in Vancouver in as many years, as bylaw officers and police worked in tandem over the cries of opposition from residents of the tents and those advocating for them.

Mayor Ken Sim ordered the long-standing encampment removed after the city's police and fire chiefs warned of escalating crime and an unacceptable fire risk.

At the camp's peak, about 180 structures covered the sidewalk along the busy street.

Questions remain, however, about where the displaced residents will go, and many have vowed to return to the only place they feel safe as soon as enforcement lifts.

Vancouver city manager Paul Mochrie has said there are not enough shelter spaces to accommodate everyone.

The statement says "shelter space availability is fluid" but pledged to continue to work with government partners to "identify additional capacity."

WATCH | Downtown Eastside campers wonder where they will go:

Workers struggle to clear encampment on Downtown Eastside

6 hours ago

Duration 2:56

In Vancouver, resignation and frustration as workers struggle to clear homeless people from the street in an encampment on the Downtown Eastside. The rain brought added challenges but people have been told nothing can remain today.

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is a historic residential and commercial neighbourhood of more than 20,000 people, many of whom live on the streets or rely on shelters.

Much of the community is living with addiction and other mental illnesses, and over the years, the area has become a hub for those seeking support.

'Gross human rights violation'

Housing advocate Fiona York described the way tents and structures were removed as "violent," "traumatizing" and "dehumanizing."

"The actions today were definitely violent actions that came from the state through various levels of government and authorizing bodies," she said.

She said the actions of the city will further isolate people who are already struggling — both from community and from much-needed services, such as harm reduction, clinics and social workers.

The Pivot Legal Society, which advocates for those on the Downtown Eastside, calls the dismantling of the Hastings Street site a "gross human rights violation.''

"There is nowhere for people to go," it said in a tweet. "[This is] a massive waste of public resources and a dangerous ploy to pretend to be doing something."

In an open letter issued Wednesday afternoon, a coalition of DTES networks representing organizations, non-profits, social enterprises and residents responded to the city's current decampment process.

The letter says the plan will only serve to further traumatize the community and perpetuate tensions between police, city officials and DTES residents. It also says 89 units of housing promised by the city and province are not yet available and the city's actions will not get people off the streets.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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