British Columbia

Vancouver street vendor crackdown displacing homeless people, say advocates

Dozens of homeless people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are being displaced during the city's push to relocate illegal sidewalk vendors, advocates say.

City says health and safety concerns are prompting it to keep vendors in allocated areas

Dozens of homeless people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are being displaced by a heavy police presence during the city's push to relocate illegal sidewalk vendors to sanctioned markets, advocates say. (Jackie Dives/Canadian Press)

Dozens of homeless people in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are being displaced by a heavy police presence during the city's push to relocate illegal sidewalk vendors to sanctioned markets, advocates say.

But the city denies the initiative is driving away people who sleep on the street, insisting the goal is only to make sure that vendors are selling their wares in safe and legal spaces.

Pivot Legal Society lawyer Doug King said the city stepped up its efforts this week to move vendors from a section of Hastings Street to a market across the street. More officers are patrolling the busy block, deterring people from setting up shelter, he said.

"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," he said.

King said the push began on Monday, when Vancouver had cold and wet weather and the city's shelters were full.

"I heard some pretty profound things from people about feeling like their home was being taken away from them," said King. "One of them said, 'I felt like I had come back from vacation and they had bulldozed my house."'

King said he was concerned that people were being forced into less-populated, dangerous areas. He added the action could potentially violate a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision that found people in Abbotsford had the right to set up a shelter overnight.

Accusations of stolen goods

The sidewalk market has been operating for years on the north side of Hastings Street in the heart of the Downtown Eastside and has long been dogged by accusations that its vendors sell stolen goods.

After Pivot Legal launched a constitutional challenge of Vancouver's bylaw that prohibits street vending, the city moved to create legitimate spaces where low-income people could sell small items for cash.

The city licensed a small market at 62 East Hastings St. — on the same block as the sidewalk market — and created a new, larger site several blocks away at 501 Powell St. It also allows a Saturday market at Pigeon Park.

"Pivot's actions are designed to protect people who are selling legitimately, and we respect that and have poured an enormous amount of energy and effort into creating a place where that can be done," said Coun. Geoff Meggs.

On Wednesday, dozens of people congregated on Hastings Street while at least four officers patrolled the stretch. Inside the bustling, colourful market at 62 Hastings St., one vendor said the city's push had overwhelmed the small space on Monday.

"I see it from the city's point of view, but I also feel for the residents who have been displaced," said Adrianna, who asked that her last name not be used.

Health and safety concerns

The city said in a statement it had launched a coordinated approach with police due to increasing health and safety concerns, including crime and garbage.

"People are still able to congregate along East Hastings and staff are not displacing those who are homeless and sleeping on the street."

Every morning, city outreach workers walk around the Downtown Eastside to help people sleeping outdoors find shelter, it said, adding that an additional 70 spaces opened up this week.

Vancouver Police Const. Brian Montague said a few extra officers had been assigned to support the city's plan for street vending, with a focus on keeping the peace and preventing injuries and property damage.

"It is not a safe or sanitary environment for those using the block to vend or those who are simply walking through the area."

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