VPD and VFRS ‘cautiously optimistic’ about DTES

“It’s going to take a considerable amount of time for us to fully understand the impact of what’s happening.”

From a fire safety and crime perspective, the situation on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) is improving.

That’s according to the city’s police and fire departments, who held a joint press conference.

“While we’re cautiously optimistic, we believe that there’s a lot more work to do,” says Vancouver Police Department (VPS) spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison. “We’re still concerned by some of the things that we’re seeing in that neighborhood, particularly in the encampment zone along East Hastings Street.”

Capt. Matthew Trudeau, the spokesperson for Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS), echoed that sentiment from a fire safety perspective, noting the fire department is “cautiously optimistic about where we are as far as increasing fire and life safety for unsheltered populations, for first responders, for people in the community, and for local businesses.”

Addison notes that preliminary crime statistics from the DTES since the city began its decampment project on April 5 show some decreases. There’s been one robbery, one stabbing, and no sexual assaults reported to the VPD. When asked if that was due to the decampment of the unhoused population or increased police presence in the area, Addison said it was too early to tell. He didn’t have statistics for the surrounding neighbourhoods.

“It’s going to take a considerable amount of time for us to fully understand the impact of what’s happening, for everything to come into full focus,” says Addison.

Fires are also down compared to recent weeks before the decampment started, Trudeau says, with outdoor fires down 43 per cent in the area, and no tent fires between April 5 and 18.

Thousands of propane tanks removed

One of the concerns the fire department has had since Chief Karen Fry ordered the removal of tents in the summer of 2022 due to fire safety issues has been propane tanks inside tents.

Trudeau noted that since that order was given nine months ago more than 2,000 propane tanks of various sizes have been pulled from the DTES.

“It’s almost 10 propane tanks a day engineering staff are still removing from the encampment area,” he says.

Weapons in the DTES

The number of weapons found in the DTES is still a concern, says Addison.

“These kinds of weapons in that neighborhood, in any neighborhood, is extremely concerning,” he says.

At the press conference, the VPD had several weapons on display. All were collected in the DTES during the night shift on April 18, Addison explains. He notes they were confiscated during only a handful of police interactions.

The weapons included brass knuckles, several bladed weapons, and improvised weapons, including a flail using a knife and a rod, and a baseball bat with metal taped to the end of it to increase its impact.

“If this is what we’re taking off of just a small number of people in a short period of time, imagine what else is out there,” says Addison. “These types of weapons are very common in that neighbourhood.”

Decampment continues

While the process started on April 5, decampment is continuing in the DTES.

Addison says police are still in the area with staff from the city’s engineering department who are the ones actually involved in taking down the shelters.

“There’s some safety concerns,” says Addison. “And as a result of that, because of some of that volatility and the safety concerns, quite simply, the engineering workers are afraid to go in there and do it. Do without us there. So we’re there.”

On April 5 there was a large protest against the decampment on East Hastings Street; Addison says lately people in shelters in the DTES are quicker to clear out when city staff arrives lately.

“We’re starting to see more compliance with people,” he says. “As the workers show up more people who have camped out for the night are beginning to voluntarily take down their stuff on their own accord.”


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