DTES Street Sweeps are Social Cleansing

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It’s eerie.

In November, as everyone in the community knows, the City of Vancouver acted on its decision to “clean up” Hastings Street. Our people have been removed from the sidewalks and our public spaces, and have been threatened by by-law tickets and police harassment.

The streets are silent of voices and a critical marketplace of our community has been lost. The city, of course, is claiming that this is done for “safety.” But whose safety? Ours, or the incoming condo residents? The city claims that this is not a displacement agenda. But it is not a coincidence. As Rob Morgan, a board member of WAHRS  (Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society) asks, “The cops I talked to say they never displaced anyone. But no one is here since the sweep – isn’t that displacement?”

“This needs to stop,” says Tracey Morrison, president of WAHRS. “We need to have our streets. We need to have our home back and our community back.”

What we’re facing in this situation is a disappearance. The city literally wants to whitewash Hastings Street and make it acceptable for higher-income people, businesses, and housing. It’s not enough for them that we are marginalized – they don’t even want to see us on the streets anymore, and the city is asserting itself with its bluntest instrument, the police.

What’s at stake here in the Downtown Eastside is the basic right of poor people to inhabit and use public space. We know that it is safer for us to survive out freely on the streets than it is to be shunted into alleys, where the terrible tragedies have occurred repeatedly because we can’t look out for each other.

And this issue has wider implications: it is important for the diversity of any city to include people of different incomes, to have people who are not rich. We are an essential part of this city and we always have been – and we are not going anywhere, and we must resist gentrification block by block.

After all, these are our streets.

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