The president of the Union Gospel Mission says Vancouver’s forced shutdown of an encampment has added another layer of stress to its staff as they put mats in hallways for the overflow of those needing shelter.
Dean Kurpjuweit said Monday the shelter has been at capacity for a few months now, but it had to go over its limit the past few nights to accommodate everyone.
“We have got a number of rooms where we put people in bunk beds and then we have kind of a common space where we put down mats; and then in the hallways that lead to the rooms, we put some mats down there,” said Kurpjuweit.
Vancouver police and city staff moved into the Downtown Eastside encampment last Wednesday to dismantle and throw away belongings, tents and other structures that lined the sidewalks on Hastings Street.
Mayor Ken Sim, along with the fire and police chiefs, said the fire danger and increased crime meant the encampment had to be dismantled.
Kurpjuweit said they did all they could to give people a warm, dry place to stay, but they still had to turn some away.
“We all understand that encampments are less than ideal, but on the same hand, if you are going to do that, you need to have enough spots for people to go to and there are not enough spots,” he said.
The Union Gospel Mission has been reaching out to fellow organizations to find spaces for these people, including the First United Church and the Salvation Army.
“Unfortunately, everybody seems to be at the same point we are, which is more people than we have space,” said Kurpjuweit.
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He said it gets stressful whenever the shelter is over capacity, and more people keep asking to stay.
“Everything just kind of gets amplified a little bit more,” he said.
Members of the group Stop the Sweeps Coalition were distributing coffee, snacks, tents and blankets to people at Oppenheimer Park on Monday.
Ryan Sudds, an organizer with the group, said some residents he spoke to had returned to nearby Hastings Street over the weekend, but city crews chased them out again.
“When the city was coming around yesterday in the rain, people were angry, people were upset, people were fed up. It has been five days now and people are getting angrier and angrier about what’s happening,” said Sudds.
He said many of those who were on Hastings Street are taking what is left of their belongings and setting up in other areas.
“For the folks who are getting displaced on the block, and they don’t have shelter or housing, the city isn’t offering them anything besides maybe [suggesting] ‘you can go to the CRAB Park,'” said Sudds, referring to the nearby waterfront park that’s home to another encampment.
The Union Gospel Mission has offered the unhoused blankets, toiletries, clothes and Easter meals.
Kurpjuweit said those are just a “temporary reprieve from the circumstances.”
“We’re going to continue to advocate for permanent solutions to get all of our community members housed, and in a place where they can live independent lives,” he said.
Sim said during a news conference last week that the longer the street camp continues, the higher the odds that more people will lose their lives and even more people will lose their homes to fire hazards.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta-Canadian Press News Fellowship, which is not involved in the editorial process.