Vancouver mayor says 'things have gotten better' after DTES tent removal. Residents, advocates disagree
'It's more dog eat dog,' says Wade Woodward, who slept in an alley after his tent was destroyed
One month since the City of Vancouver started formally removing the latest tent encampment on the Downtown Eastside, Mayor Ken Sim says the situation has improved. However, some non-profits and residents say the forced removals have caused more harm than good.
On April 5, the city shut down parts of East Hastings Street as garbage trucks moved into the area and police took down tents and makeshift homes.
Smaller-scale removals have continued throughout the month.
"We've decreased the risk of, you know, 100-pound propane tanks exploding and taking out entire city blocks. We've reduced the weapons that are on the street," Sim said. "Things have gotten better."
Sim says growing concerns over fire risk and rising crime drove the city to take action in early April despite opposition from members of the community.
"It was really scary, sad and like not the way things should be done," said Michelle Lackie, executive director of Exchange Inner City, a non-profit organization that works with people on the Downtown Eastside.
Lackie says the experience was traumatizing to witness, and left her worried for where displaced residents were expected to go, without options for safe, supportive housing beyond overnight shelters.
While the city's concerns over public safety were valid, she says, there needs to be more emphasis on those affected.
"It wasn't safe for the people who were moved that day and continually don't have a place to go."
Lackie says she thinks it was possible for the city to reduce safety risks while respecting residents' rights but it would've taken more time.
At least two new housing developments intended for DTES residents are expected to be ready by the end of June, she says, opening up hundreds of housing units.
The mayor's former chief of staff, Kareem Allam, is also questioning the city's actions. Allam left the mayor's office two months before the decampment.
"From a health-care outcomes perspective, that's not that's not the right decision," he said.
Allam says up until he left city hall, the plan was to not decamp residents without an adequate housing plan.
WATCH | Mayor and his former chief of staff disagree on tent removals:
It was a promise he made on behalf of the ABC Party during a meeting organized by Exchange Inner City with more than two dozen DTES stakeholder groups and almost every ABC councillor, days before Sim was sworn in.
He's now apologizing for the broken promise.
"I'm quite disheartened," he says, adding he doesn't know what led to the city's decision.
"I think a lot of people in the community spent a lot of time educating me and teaching me about what was going on and ... the words that I said to them turned out to not be true."
'More dog eat dog'
For residents like Wade Woodward — who ended up sleeping in an alley after his tent was thrown away — life has been more difficult since the decampment, he says.
Woodward says he feels the streets are more "nasty" as people try to survive after losing their belongings.
"It's more dog eat dog," he says. "Everyone's getting stolen from, you fall asleep and someone rips off all your stuff."
On Monday, he says he fell asleep on the street and someone stole all his belongings, even items in his pockets.
Woodward is now spending nights in his room at the Flint Hotel, an SRO, but says he's afraid to be there. He says a neighbour who broke in and stabbed him four times is still living on his floor.
Vancouver Police recently commented that reported crime rates in the neighbourhood are trending downwards.
Woodward says he and others often don't report crimes out of fear of being known as a "cop caller."
Lackie adds that crimes and gender-based violence are still happening, but it may not be in a single area as it once was.