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'We have to break the cycle': Vancouver leaders, B.C. premier defend tent city decampment


The premier and Vancouver's top officials defended their approach to Wednesday's takedown of the Downtown Eastside tent encampment with police enforcement, insisting safety issues had escalated to the point they had to act. 

Ongoing fires in and around the tents, escalating violence, and reported sexual assaults of women were all repeatedly cited by officials, who described the remaining campers as entrenched and unwilling to leave despite multiple offers of shelter spaces.

“We need to restore Hastings as a street that is safe and welcoming to everyone,” said Mayor Ken Sim.

“I am confident we are taking a step in the right direction.”

The chiefs of Vancouver's police and fire departments, the city manager and the mayor held a news conference at city hall as the tent clearing was underway. Journalists were required to show accreditation with extra security and a rare police presence inside and out.

Fire Chief Karen Fry said there have been 1,600 propane tanks seized, explosions and fires are a risk to campers and everyone else in the area, and that “it is a matter of time before more lives are lost” due to fires.

The encampment is unsafe. We've had shootings, stabbings, assaults, people shot with crossbows, handguns,” said Chief Const. Adam Palmer, who insisted campers have been approached with compassion by his officers.


As journalists began asking detailed questions about the decampment and efforts to house those who consider tents safer than dilapidated housing offered to them, it was the city manager who fielded nearly every response.

“There are more people seeking housing than we have housing, that's absolutely correct,” said Paul Mochrie, acknowledging that some people have nowhere to go and may try to re-establish a camp on East Hastings.

“We have people sheltering outside across the city and, in fact, most of the people in Vancouver who are unsheltered are not on Hastings Street.”

When CTV News pointed out that campers describe squalid, filthy, unsafe conditions with rats and other pests as the reason they’re not accepting housing offers and asked what the city was doing to inspect and compel maintenance or even basic sanitation, Mochrie acknowledged that Single Room Occupancy (SRO) suites are a thorny problem for the city. 

“Much of that housing stock is very old, it was constructed for a different purpose – for hotels – and is in significant need of reinvestment or redevelopment, and that's a very expensive, long-term challenge,” he said, describing SROs as “challenging buildings” that city inspectors review with fire officials.

“Those SROs, as bad as the conditions are, are becoming increasingly unaffordable just given the demand for housing,” said Mochrie, implying that shutting them down would just see more people on the street.

He says more than 600 tents have already been removed since last summer and up to 3,000 kilograms of material are removed daily. 


Premier David Eby described the sidewalk evictions as “a very sad situation an a sad day” but insisted that there is enough shelter space available, with more than 300 housing units coming online by June

When challenged on the figure and told the city had 1,300 people on the waiting list, the premier noted that some of the campers had refused repeated outreach efforts and that reducing homelessness was a longer-term strategy that he sees his ambitious, new, multi-billion-dollar housing plan as addressing. 

Eby said he was “profoundly concerned” about people living outside. When CTV News asked whether he was anticipating people would just end up camping in other areas of the city, he said he wanted to “break the cycle of people sleeping outside,” but insisted that accepting shelter was the first step. 

“We have, in the past, moved people directly from encampments into housing without knowing who they were, what their backgrounds were, and it didn't end well,” he said. “We had to actually close a hotel in Victoria that we had leased because of that approach.” Top Stories

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