Vancouver’s fire chief says if a blaze were to breakout along East Hastings Street right now, the number of tents lining it would make things “catastrophic.”
Fire Chief Karen Fry issued an order Monday (July 25) for all tents and other structures to be removed immediately from the Downtown Eastside street citing safety concerns, but advocates say there is nowhere else for people to go.
“Should a fire occur in the area in its current condition, it would be catastrophic, putting lives at risk and jeopardizing hundreds of units of much-needed housing,” the City of Vancouver wrote in a statement.
The city said it’s already been working to remove structures to increase accessibility to sidewalks and buildings.
It said it will work with community and non-profit organizations in the coming days to expedite the process and offer shelter for people who are using the tents as their homes. Access to day storage for personal belongings, public washrooms, misting stations, handwashing stations and water fountains will also be increased, the city said.
Still, advocates are expressing concern about kicking people off the street during a heat wave.
“Breaking up a tent camp on the hottest day of the year, in a ‘hood with the least tree cover in the city.’ Because safety. Well, if the situation is unsafe, that’s because it was designed that way. This city is a displacement engine from the start – a machine for making people unsafe,” Garth Mullins, a member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and host of Crackdown Podcast, tweeted.
Aaron Bailey, a research student working with The Right to Remain, a project examining SROs in the Downtown Eastside called the situation a “manufactured crisis” in his own tweet.
“There is no housing. Nowhere to go. During a heatwave,” he said.
In a statement, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he fully supports Fry’s order, but recognizes the difficulty it will cause for people who call the tents on East Hastings Street home.
“…it is clear that demand for high quality, supportive housing still outstrips supply – especially during hot summer days when many residents cannot live safely inside SROs with poor ventilation,” he said.
The majority of B.C., including Vancouver, has been under Environment Canada heat warnings since Monday. The weather agency is forecasting daily highs in the mid-to-high 20s for the Vancouver International Airport. Nighttime lows will only get down to 17 C to 19 C.
The City of Vancouver has announced it will hold a media availability to discuss Fry’s order further on Tuesday afternoon.