The City alleges that the new measure will not be enforced by citations. Instead, police have been conducting “sweeps,” in which they form a line across the width of a sidewalk and walk down until the entire area is cleared. Several vendors have expressed uneasiness regarding force and intimidation tactics used by officers. Some even claim they had their personal property confiscated by police and city workers.

Cracking down on subsistence

To discuss the new approach, a meeting was held on Nov. 17 at the City of Vancouver’s Social Services and Cultural Development Office.

Although the meeting was technically open to the public, none of the people directly affected by the policy — homeless people, vendors, and DTES residents — were even made aware of it. Instead, invitations were extended only to 15 “relevant stakeholders,” including bureaucrats, law enforcement, and members of various business improvement and housing organizations, whose daily life would be minimally, if at all, affected by the street vending ban.

Facilitating the meeting was Tobin Postma, the City of Vancouver’s communications manager, who cited various reasons for the new policy. According to Postma, the City wants to “encourage” vendors to leave East Hastings St. for city-sanctioned markets on Powell St. and Pigeon Park.

Vendors stated concerns, however, regarding the new locations. They claim that the sites are too far removed from neighbourhood foot traffic to provide the revenue necessary to survive in Canada’s most expensive city. The markets also have daily hours, which would affect the ability for some vendors, especially those working other jobs or caring for children, to utilize them.

Additionally, it is unclear if there would even be enough room to accommodate all of the neighbourhood vendors. Even though one site allows for 200 spots, it has already received upwards of 800 applicants.

Complaints, crime, and congestion

Postma also alleged that the City’s 311 hotline has received an increasing number of complaints from DTES residents. Although he did not provide any further information regarding these alleged residents, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that they make up the neighbourhood’s most recent inhabitants: the upper-middle-class Vancouverites ushering in the newest wave of development and gentrification in the area.

Directly across the street from the busiest street vending site is the contentious Sequel 138, a six-floor condominium set to open its doors in December of this year. Having adopted the foreboding slogan “Historic Downtown is Changing,” the Sequel touts itself as a provider of “affordable housing.” However, the site’s prices speak for themselves: the most inexpensive option comes to around half-a-million dollars for a one-bedroom, and its ground-floor retail spaces are priced between $500,000 and $1.36 million.

The condos were largely made possible by a low-interest loan of $21.8 million granted by the B.C. government on the basis that a majority of units were to be offered at BC Housing’s income limit of $912, and the welfare rental allowance rate of $375 per month. However, as of now, only 18 of its 97 units will be subsidized.

Also present at the meeting was Howard Chow, district commander for Patrol District 2, who cited different concerns. According to Chow, street vending has encouraged people from outside the city to use East Hastings St. as a one-stop shop for “drugs and stolen goods,” resulting in “congestion” and an increase in crime. However, it is not apparent how banning street vending and restricting people of their primary means of income would have any positive effect on crime.

Chow did not acknowledge other factors may be affecting crime rates in the DTES (statistics for which are currently not available to the public). It is worth noting that street vending in the area has occurred for decades, while crime rates may fluctuate immensely each year. Perhaps a larger factor is the steady number of unhoused people in Vancouver, which, coupled with the rising prices of subsidized housing and the stagnancy of the welfare rate, is only bound to increase.

Out of sight, out of mind

The street vending ban seems to be a continuation of the City’s strategy of social control in the DTES.

In the run-up to Expo ’86, a number of single-residence occupancy hotels housing individuals at subsidized rates were cleared out in order to make way for the tens of thousands of attendees flooding the city, marking the beginning of Vancouver’s modern era of gentrification. During the 2010 Winter Olympics — which cost $7 billion, a third of which was footed by taxpayers — homeless people were restricted from venturing too far into the downtown core, instructed by police to stick to the DTES in an effort to make the rest of the city more appealing for tourists.

The City’s efforts to “clean up” East Hastings St. echo previous attempts at hiding Vancouver’s “black eye”: the large number of individuals who continue to be unhoused despite Mayor Gregor Robertson’s pledge to end homelessness by 2015.

By ousting people from the area, the problem is “out of sight, out of mind,” no longer visible from the lofty high-rises or designer coffee shops that have invaded the neighbourhood. The displacement mechanism is additionally justified by the City’s installation of legal market sites, which, although seemingly harmless, is a crucial step in total gentrification of the DTES.

Although development in impoverished areas can seem beneficial from the outside, it often comes at a great cost. If left unopposed, gentrification can swallow neighbourhoods whole, uprooting thousands of people who, unlike condo owners, cannot afford to go anywhere else. The DTES is the last place in Vancouver where communities dealing with homelessness, disability, and mental health issues can access the support services they need; where someone can afford housing on B.C.’s welfare rates, which haven’t risen in eight years; where a disenfranchised, working-class community has an opportunity to thrive.

It is a remarkable neighbourhood with a vibrant history, and to see it altered would be injurious not only to the people who call it home, but to the very values of acceptance and compassion that are infinitely more important than the real estate market.