Vancouver Removes Unhoused People Through Forced Encampment Sweeps

Vancouver Downtown Eastside

Vancouver officials cleared an encampment in Downtown Eastside, removing homeless people without offering an alternative location. City staff and police were given the authority to use force to execute the sweeping if necessary.

Vancouver’s Mayor Ken Sim said that removing unhoused people from the area was needed for “safety reasons,” even though he admitted that there were no tangible steps to help them find a place to live.

There is a significant risk of potential violence when a city deploys police to remove unhoused people from an area forcefully. Given the tumultuous relationship between police and unhoused people, this decision by the city was highly reckless on all levels. The Vancouver establishment knows that unhoused people are incredibly vulnerable, yet the city knowingly used their vulnerability against them.

As a resident of Vancouver, I believe Vancouver is a highly welcoming and progressive city to live in. However, when it comes to helping unhoused people, our welcoming and progressive attitude suddenly disappears.

Leaked City Document Suggests the City Intentionally Used Police to Remove Unhoused People Despite Possibility of Escalating Situations

The new leadership under Mayor Sim wanted the homeless encampments removed at any cost. According to CBC, a leaked city document shows the plan was to use city staff and police force to remove the encampments, an irresponsible move.

First of all, police brutality has been scrutinized in many recent instances. When it comes to police and unhoused people, the story is even more frightening. 

For example, data shows that when officers used force in Los Angeles, a homeless person was involved more than 1 out of 3 times. The total number of these instances was 217, a 27% increase from the previous year’s period, demonstrating a growing inclination. Five counts were deemed “categorical use of force,” indicating that the force resulted in a severe injury.

These stats demonstrate how dangerous it can be to deploy law enforcement to handle encampment sweeps. Homeless people must be able to trust the people sent to help them, not fear them.

Encampment Sweeps Are Not Effective, as People Often Return to the Same Location

This is not the first time attempts to remove unhoused people have happened. However, whenever the city forcefully removes people from encampments, those people leave temporarily. Once the operation is complete, people slowly return.

In this CBC video, an unhoused man talks about his experience with sweeps and how once the cops are gone, people return.

In the same video, a Vancouver resident talks about the unacceptable housing options offered to unhoused people in these situations. The rooms provided are worse than the camps they were staying in. They are infested with cockroaches, have insufficient space for a single person, and have unclean washrooms with no sinks. This shows how unhoused people have been dehumanized in our culture.

Cynthia Griffith argues that homelessness is only possible because humans choose to dehumanize other humans. She writes the public perceives homeless people as possessing “no redeeming qualities.”

I fully agree with her as I have witnessed people saying homeless people “choose” to be homeless because they are lazy or have drug issues. Things will remain the same unless we start seeing homeless people as equals and are humble enough to consider their recommendations to solve homelessness.

Vancouver Needs to Confront Its Bigger Problems to Solve Homelessness Correctly

Temporary sweeps and attempts to hide homelessness from the general public will not solve homelessness. If Vancouver is committed to solving homelessness, officials should ask residents what the city’s biggest problem is. They will reply: the cost of living. Rent is too high and prevents many unhoused people from escaping homelessness. It also makes thousands more people more vulnerable to homelessness.

Rent is too damn high. Wages are too damn low” rings true for Vancouver, as it does elsewhere. If Vancouver wants to address homelessness, it must tackle the cost-of-living challenge, which it has ignored for too long.

Nishan Ghimire

Nishan Ghimire

Nishan is a writer and columnist based in Vancouver, focusing on offering a unique insight into contemporary issues through news, essays and storytelling.

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