VPD claim that move was not to displace homeless
By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor
The City of Vancouver is on the defence after being accused of attempting to displace the homeless in the Downtown Eastside, insisting the city and the Vancouver Police Department are only looking to relocate homeless street vendors to a safer area to peddle.
The street vendors have been present in East Vancouver for years, both around Commercial Drive and East Hastings. The markets have garnered controversy over time, with many accusing the often-homeless vendors of selling stolen wares. The homeless vendors often set up shelter near their street markets.
Many claim that the city’s move to herd the homeless to another area to sell their goods is just an attempt to keep them off of some streets and move them onto more dangerous ones.
“They don’t feel comfortable being there, and either explicitly or indirectly they’ve received the message from police that they’re not welcome there,” said Doug King, a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society, to CBC.
King and the Pivot Legal Society have taken action against the city, saying that Vancouver’s bylaw prohibiting street vending is unconstitutional. They also claim that the move by the city and the VPD is in violation of a Supreme Court of BC decision made earlier this year in Abbotsford, which granted more rights towards the homeless in regard to setting up shelter.
The city defended its actions in a statement, as reported by CBC: “People are still able to congregate along East Hastings, and staff are not displacing those who are homeless and sleeping on the street.”
As an attempt to remedy the situation, the city announced that they would set up a more permanent location for these vendors to sell items. However, in a first attempt to establish a space, the allocated area became overwhelmed and overcrowded.
Many have come to the defence of the homeless vendors. A collection of local support organizations wrote a collective letter to the Georgia Straight that read: “We ask the City of Vancouver to listen to the 3,000 Downtown Eastside residents who have demanded that the DTES become a Social Justice Zone. A Social Justice Zone is a place where people are not targeted and criminalized for being poor, and where the needs of the community come before the profits of developers and corporations.” They accused the city of conducting “social cleansing” and brought attention to the disproportionate number of indigenous homeless people in the area.
SFU students are also defending the vendors. One such student is International Studies major Amy Widmer, who said to CBC that it is not enough of an effort on the city’s part to move these vendors to a collective market.
“[Potential buyers] have to actually actively enter into a space that is designated for vending instead of being able to just walk down the street, pass by, and see something.”