Street vendors around East Hastings are desperate to continue selling because it’s the only solution they have to make ends meet with a lack of affordable housing in an area being rapidly gentrified, according to advocates.
The city’s decision to force the sellers to move to the new sites and impose restrictions on how often they can sell is devastating, says Maria Wallstam from the Carnegie Community Action Plan Project.
Vending increases due to housing situations
“I think part of the reason street vending has increased in the last few years is because housing has worsened,” said Wallstam. “No one should be displaced for trying to survive, and that’s essentially what’s happening,”
Many vendors spend the day looking for goods, and the new locations don’t generate a lot of foot traffic or have restricted hours, she said.
Some of them live in the private hotels and rooming houses, where rents have been rising, leaving them with almost no money left from the $610 a month they get from welfare.
B.C.’s welfare rates are $610 a month and have been since 2007. Even those who live in social housing, where the rents for welfare recipients are limited to $375, find themselves struggling to feed themselves.
“Welfare wages are low, so they supplement their income through street vending,” Wallstam said. “This is not something anyone wants to do, to sit on the streets in the rain and sell goods.”
Vending as a means for survival
Ann Livingston, with the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood council, said many street vendors are homeless and not getting welfare at all, so they vend as a way to survive.
According to a report from the DTES Street Market Society, done between July and November of this year, 24 per cent of vendors were homeless, and 89 per cent reported relying on both government assistance and money that they made on the streets to survive. The report stated an average street vendor could make $76 per day.
“Every possible unfairness is heaped on people who have no way to fight back,” said Livingston. “They don’t have any resources.”
New locations for legal street vending not enough
The block on East Hastings Street, where vendors have illegally set up shop for years, is now off limits to vendors. Instead, the city has instituted three other vending locations to which they are restricted.
The city states its objective is “to assist and facilitate the movement of street vendors from East Hastings Street and surrounding areas.” The vending locations, which are all only open to 6 p.m., include 62 E. Hastings St. Monday to Friday, 501 Powell St. on Saturdays, and Sundays at Pigeon Park on Carrall Street. The East Hastings site is across the street from where most of the vending has taken place over the years and is considerably smaller.
Wallstam said the problem with the official vending sites is they close early.
“These sites are not open during the night when a lot of people need them,” she said.
Wallstam added people are going to continue vending until the city does something to improve social housing because they have no other choice.
“If measures were taken, I think you’d see a big difference,” she said.
Landon Hoyt, executive director with the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, said the empty business spaces where street vending has occurred have been hard to fill when the whole sidewalk is blocked.
“There is a lack of affordable housing and job opportunities in the neighbourhood,” he said.