Hastings Tent City, a Human Rights Emergency

( This is the #StopTheSweeps Campaign Brief for the 2022 Municipal Election)

Tent city residents are sheltering in place – not by choice, but for their survival. Faced with dangerous, pest-infested, and fatally isolating conditions in supportive housing and SROs, many must live in community outdoors to stay alive. Rather than provide safe, clean, and permanent welfare-rate housing to residents, the City and Province are forcefully evicting the tent city with no offer of shelter alternatives. Contrary to City communications, the eviction process is coercive and dehumanizing.

The City’s eviction of Hastings Tent City is not about fire safety – it’s about hiding poverty. This is a human rights emergency, not a cynical election talking point about ‘public safety’.

The fire order used to justify the City’s eviction of Hastings Tent City ignores the dangers to life and safety caused by displacement. When tents are dispersed, no one is around to respond to overdoses. If there’s a tent fire, no one is there to help. The real fire safety issue is in the unlivable housing stock available in the Downtown Eastside: according to the City’s data, 40% of SROs have outstanding fire violations. This fire order isn’t about public safety. It is about clearing the streets of visible poverty.|

Residents of the Hastings Tent City are organizing to keep their community safe and clean.

Since July 12, Hastings Tent City residents, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War (CPDDW) have been organizing to keep the community safe and clean through the OUR STREETS Block Stewardship Program. Despite the City’s eviction efforts, the program has been successful in empowering residents as community leaders, providing peer employment, fire safety training, harm reduction workshops, and community-building projects.

Where are Hastings Tent City residents supposed to go?

While the City calls this “voluntary decampment,” it would be more accurately described as a coercive eviction to nowhere.

Every day, city workers pressure residents to leave Hastings Street with no offers of housing or shelter. Politicians have been quiet on how this forced eviction violates the human rights of unhoused people.

Principle 3 of the National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada states that “International human rights law does not permit governments to destroy peoples’ homes, even if those homes are made of improvised materials and established without legal authority.” In a letter to the Mayor and the BC Minister of Housing, the BC Human Rights Commissioner said this: “The eviction of people and dismantling of their homes without adequate consultation and collaboration with those being evicted and without providing suitable alternatives is contrary to human rights law.”

We ask people to stand up for the human rights of Vancouver’s unhoused community: until there’s adequate welfare-rate housing for all, allow Hastings Tent City residents to shelter in place, overnight and during the day, without facing evictions to nowhere or being coerced into dangerous housing.

Take the Pledge to #StopTheSweeps