City of Vancouver plans to relocate Downtown Eastside vendors

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The City of Vancouver is trying to relocate masses of homeless vendors of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) to a newly designated location.

Locals who make their daily spending as vendors along East Hastings will be moved to 501 Powell Street sometime in June or July.

Currently, crowds of homeless people flock to the area between Carrall and Columbia streets everyday and sell their possessions — whether it’s garbage findings or stolen goods.

Mary Clare Zak, Vancouver’s director of social policy, said that the City believes there will be more opportunity for stability with the relocation, and that it’s part of a response to the survival economy of the DTES.

“There will be more opportunity for gardening and eventually more social housing to go up near that site,” she said.

But some local vendors have expressed discontent with the City’s plan to move them.

Casey Philips, who sells items he finds in the trash on Hastings, said that he worries crowds will disperse as a result of the move.

“It would affect us because this is already where everybody comes if they want to get a deal,” Philips said. “For me, I recycle stuff that I find in the garbage and use it to get my insulin everyday for my diabetes.”

Philips said it would take time for everyone to adjust to the change, something he fears risking.

“Being homeless, I don’t have a fridge for my insulin so I have to pay the pharmacy $5 a shot every time I go, three times a day.”

But Zak said this new location is expected to be a safer location for the vendors.

“Over the last year they’ve done what they can to have security guards, to have volunteers guarding the site, but its location for vending has a disadvantage for not having a fenced area,” she said. “The new location does provide proper fencing and the VPD is very supportive of that fact.”

Street vending without a permit is illegal in Vancouver. After a surge of ticketing by the VPD in 2010, DTES advocacy groups Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) established the Downtown Eastside Street Market. This street market is held in Pigeon Park, and is an alternative to selling in the jumble of unpermitted vendors on East Hastings every day.

The Downtown Eastside Street Market takes place every Sunday, and an estimated $10,000 worth of transactions happen every week on this one day.

Back in 2013, as part of the City Council’s Community Economic Development Strategy, the City passed a plan to search for a permanent spot for the Downtown Eastside Street Market, and to add additional days for vending.

The designated site on 501 Powell Street will allow vendors to operate for more than just Sunday.

Though certain residents and businesses of Powell Street disapprove of this move, saying it will have a negative impact on their community.

“We can expect increased drug activity, vandalism, property crime, prostitution and chaos,” reads a petition launched against the plan on change.org. “We are opposed to the use of this location for the sale of illegal and stolen goods, and the collateral negative impact it will have on the area.”

Acknowledging the petition, Zak said the City will hold a public hearing to deal with concerns before the move.

“We’ll ensure a safe transition.”

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Behdad Mahichi is currently an Editorial Assistant at Vancity Buzz and a journalism student at Ryerson University. He writes about anything from entertainment and politics to his misfortunately extreme caffeine addiction.
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