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'We're at our last stand': Tent city residents, advocates speak out against Vancouver's eviction plans

People living in a growing encampment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside joined advocates in the neighbourhood to speak out against plans to try and dismantle the makeshift homes.

The tent city has been the focus of a fire department order to remove structures for weeks now, but residents and supporters are questioning where else they can go at a time when the province has admitted available housing is limited.

At times chanting “Whose streets are these? Our streets” in a call and response, the group spoke to media Tuesday in front of the Balmoral Hotel, a once-notorious SRO now slated for demolition. They stood under a black and yellow banner, which read: “Where are we supposed to go?”

One speaker named Melody talked about her tent being taken away “multiple times,” including once while she was still sleeping.

“I’m staying in a shelter and my son stays outside. I can’t live like that. I can’t be in a shelter while he’s outside, so I stay outside with him,” she said. “There needs to be more places for people like us. We just want to be a family and have our own place together.”

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said some people without homes have already been moved from more than one location.

“They’ve been pushed out of Strathcona park, they’ve been pushed out of Oppenheimer park, they’ve been pushed out of a lot of these places where they were, that’s why they’re here,” she said. “It’s a strategic move the government’s been doing, pushing them out of here, pushing them out of there. We’re at our last stand.”

Vancouver’s fire chief issued an order on July 25 to remove tents and structures, citing concerns about the fire risk. In a statement to CTV News, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services said members are working with the city’s engineering department to “identify key areas of concern, in regards to high risk areas and areas with higher amount of combustibles.”

“These high risk areas include exit and entrance ways, adequate access paths into buildings, access to the fire department connections on buildings and storage around fire hydrants,” the department said. “Progress is slow, but we are continuing to provide safety information and assist COV engineering staff.”

City Coun. Jean Swanson attended the news conference on Hastings, and said she was speaking for herself, not on behalf of the city.

“People need a place to go before they should be banished. There’s no place for them to go,” she said. “We need to keep them safe until there is a place to go.”

CTV News requested an interview with B.C.’s housing minister, but was told he was unavailable. Last week, Minister Murray Rankin issued a statement, and confirmed there isn’t available space to find new accommodations for everyone on short notice.

“We have 700 new supportive homes on the way over the longer term in Vancouver. But right now, we’re at an in-between moment where access to new spaces is limited,” he said. “Outreach teams are offering the limited number of spaces we do have available.”

BC Housing also issued a statement, saying its staff is supporting outreach being led by the city.

“Housing space is tight in Vancouver,” BC Housing said. “We are pursuing new sites to lease or purchase, while also expediting renovations on SRO units as they become vacant so we can re-open them as soon as possible…it is our goal to have some spaces ready starting this month with more coming through the fall.”

CTV News also requested an interview with Vancouver’s mayor but was told he was travelling and unavailable, and no other city staff were available either.

In an email, the city said along with its outreach team, it is also providing funding for various services, including “hundreds of daily meals” through A Better Life Foundation, access to storage, security, a new mobile washroom, and a drop-in space that will be opened on Aug. 22. Top Stories

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