City of Vancouver street sweeps are displacing homeless people from Hastings Street

Vancouver, B.C.  [November 18, 2015]—The City of Vancouver’s efforts to move street vendors off the zero block of Hastings Street has displaced dozens of homeless people and survival street vendors, potentially putting them in harm’s way, according to Pivot Legal Society.

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

Lawyers from the Pivot Legal Society and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association acted as legal observers this week as the City and Vancouver Police Department began street sweeps to move low-income survival street vendors in the neighbourhood to the sanctioned vending sites at 62 E. Hastings St. and 501 Powell St.

The City and VPD claim the sweeps are only targeted at illegal street vending, however, Pivot has seen the ongoing police presence on the block also deter homeless people from setting up shelter, despite the cold and wet weather conditions and the City’s shelters being at maximum capacity earlier in the week.

On Friday November 13, there were approximately 200 people present along the north side of the city block. This week, there were none.

“The City is once again using its bylaws to target street vendors in the DTES, despite a recognition that the activity is crucial to low-income people’s survival,” says Doug King, police accountability lawyer at Pivot Legal Society. “Unfortunately, regardless of the City’s intentions, the increased police presence and displacement have placed both vendors and the homeless on the zero block in a precarious situation.”

While interviews that Pivot Legal Society lawyers had with VPD officers stationed on the block revealed that there was no consensus as to how the homeless who sleep on the block would be treated, what is clear is that the round-the-clock police presence has deterred those needing cover from the rain from seeking refuge in one of the few places they know. Homeless individuals in the neighbourhood confirmed they felt it necessary to move elsewhere to sleep, into unfamiliar and potentially more dangerous locations.

A recent Supreme Court of BC decision found that homeless residents in Abbotsford, B.C., have a right to set up shelter between the hours of 7pm and 9am. In its decision, the Court found that the “continual displacement of the City’s homeless causes them impaired sleep and serious psychological pain and stress and creates a risk to their health” and that the way forward is one that ensures “that space exists in which the City’s homeless can sleep, rest, shelter, stay warm, eat, wash, and attend to personal hygiene.”

“The BC Supreme Court was very clear in its ruling that displacement – which can take the form of ticketing or other policing tactics – is highly harmful to an already vulnerable population,” says DJ Larkin, housing justice lawyer at Pivot Legal Society who acted as counsel in the Abbotsford litigation. “This decision applies to every municipality. It recognizes the human rights of homeless individuals and prioritizes their right to survive over how municipalities wish to enforce bylaws or pursue policy.”

The street sweeps along the zero block, which stretches between Carrall and Columbia Streets, first began earlier this fall with city workers and police confiscating possessions in the mornings. This week marked an increase in policing along the street to move people to the 62 E. Hastings location, which has capacity for just two dozen vendors and closes at 6pm. 501 Powell St. is only open on Saturdays.

“The city has been asking where to put people instead of asking why they’re there,” says King. “They should be using these resources to apply pressure to the provincial government to address the root causes of poverty that are putting people on the street.”

In community consultations, the City has cited increased traffic and crime on the block as reasons for conducting the street sweeps. However, reports have pointed to the soon-to-open Sequel 138 condominium development as motivation for the crackdown.

Pivot Legal Society’s own investigation into the neighbourhood included an FOI request that revealed a series of email correspondences from developer and owner of 71 East Hastings St. Steven Lippman expressing his concerns about street activity on the zero block. 

  • A copy of the FOI response can be found here [see page 14 and pages 29 onward]
  • Photos of Hastings Street police sweeps can be downloaded here [credit Jackie Dives]
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About Pivot Legal Society
Pivot Legal Society is a leading Canadian human rights organization that uses the law to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion in Canada. Pivot’s work includes challenging laws and policies that force people to the margins of society and keep them there. Since 2002 Pivot has won major victories for sex workers’ rights, police accountability, affordable housing, and health and drug policy. 
For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact: 
Kevin Hollett
Communications Director, Pivot Legal Society