Vancouver police investigate flyers threatening arson against homeless people and drug users

Vancouver police say they are trying to identify who is responsible for flyers distributed on the Downtown Eastside that threaten to burn the tents of homeless people as well as Insite, a supervised injection site.

Vancouver police ask residents to be vigilant and come forward if they know anything

Vancouver police say they are trying to identify who is responsible for flyers distributed on the Downtown Eastside that threaten to burn the tents of homeless people as well as Insite, a supervised injection site.

Photos of the threatening flyers, which give homeless people seven days to leave the neighbourhood, were circulated Monday on social media.

"We are working to identify the person or people responsible for these messages, which have understandably caused fear and anxiety in the Downtown Eastside," Sgt. Steve Addison said in an emailed statement.

"Until we know more, we're asking everyone to be extra vigilant, to look out for their neighbours, and to report suspicious activity."

The flyer says Insite will be the "first building to be burned down."

Police are asking anyone with information to come forward.

Threats, violence 'another day in the life'

Trey Helton, a manager at the Overdose Prevention Society, which provides supervised consumption services and other harm reduction efforts, says he has heard from people in the community that the flyers were distributed sometime over the weekend.

He says that while it's a sad thing to see, people who are homeless in Vancouver are commonly subjected to threats and acts of violence.

He says he experienced it himself, having been formerly homeless and addicted to drugs.

"Sleeping in the alleyways of Granville, I would have people come up and try to kick me in the face or beat me up on a regular basis just because they deemed me as an unworthy citizen," Helton said.

"The reality of it is people who are homeless and dealing with mental illness or who are facing struggles with substance use disorder, deal with this all too often. And it can frequently be chalked up as just another day in the life."

Helton says there needs to be more love and compassion for people who are homeless.

"It can happen to you, could happen to one of your family members, whoever you are."

Mayor responds

Vancouver Coastal Health, which operates Insite in partnership with the Portland Hotel Society, said it is aware of the threats to both people in the area and their facility.

"VCH has a zero tolerance approach to any threats to the safety of our staff or clients who access services at our health care facilities," the health authority said in an email.

"As many of our clients who use substances also live with mental health concerns and trauma, it is paramount they feel safe, secure and unjudged while accessing essential health care, including harm reduction services."

On Twitter, Mayor Kennedy Stewart called the letters "reprehensible" and echoed the call for people with information to come forward.

Got this from <a href="https://twitter.com/JenStDen?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JenStDen</a> today.<br>Unhoused people living on Hastings deserve our support, friendship &amp; compassion.<br><br>This is reprehensible &amp; won’t be tolerated. Those involved will be regarded with the fullest extent of the law.<br><br>Anyone with info please contact me or <a href="https://twitter.com/VancouverPD?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@VancouverPD</a>. <a href="https://t.co/rHY1olS4Xb">pic.twitter.com/rHY1olS4Xb</a>

&mdash;@kennedystewart

Tension

The letters come at a tense time in the Downtown Eastside.

Crime and disruptive behaviour in Vancouver — or at least perceptions thereof — are receiving plenty of attention in news media and social media. In the run-up to October's municipal election, some candidates have made these issues central to their campaigns.

Last week, some tents began coming down on Hastings Street, where a large encampment of people who are homeless was subject to a fire chief's order to remove their makeshift homes over fire safety concerns. However, no one has been able to provide housing for the people living there.

Last month in Langley, four people who were homeless or formerly homeless were shot, two fatally, in an hours-long shooting spree that ended with police shooting the alleged gunman.

A short time after, a woman was deliberately set on fire while she sat on a sidewalk in the Downtown Eastside.

The senseless attacks left the community and advocates shaken and had them asking what it will take to get action to make people who are homeless less vulnerable.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is an award-winning journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.

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