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City seeks new service provider to help clean Downtown Eastside after axing VANDU contract

Vancouver sanitation crews are removing between 2,000 and 3,000 kilograms of garbage and other materials from East Hastings Street each day, and the city is looking to hire a non-profit or social enterprise to help improve cleanliness, clear a safe path for pedestrians and reduce fire hazards.

The City of Vancouver said the services in question are outside the scope of cleaning performed by crews on the Downtown Eastside, “notably with respect to micro-cleaning, which involves the daily collection of litter on foot using brooms, shovels and wheeled garbage carts.”

“The work also is work that we typically won’t do,” sanitation services manager Mike Zupan explained.

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“It’s very detailed cleaning, they’re using brooms and rakes and getting into the corners and removing needles and smaller debris.”

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A Request for Proposals (RFP) issued on Dec. 15 is seeking a service provider for a six-month “Public Realm Cleaning Initiative,” with $450,000 in funding from the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

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The primary focus will be the area generally bounded by Abbott Street to the west, Dunlevy Street to the east, Cordova Street to the north and Pender Street to the south.

In November 2022, the city ended a similar six-month $320,000 block stewardship contract with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, claiming the group wasn’t focused on street cleaning.

The city’s 2022 operating budget allocated $11,978,000 for street cleaning while council also approved $2.18 million in annual street cleaning grants to employ non-profits for micro-cleaning. But the city’s sanitation boss said that program can’t take on Hastings Street without reducing services to 22 business improvement associations.

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“This is a need specifically for the Hastings corridor that we felt was important to have a separate RFP for,” Zupan said.

With an encampment still occupying a stretch of Hastings Street between Abbott and Dunlevy streets, former Vancouver city councillor George Affleck said the city is facing an interesting dilemma, but that the last civic election showed voters want a different strategy going forward.

“I think what we want to see is a cleaner city, how do we best do that? Is this the best way? I don’t think so.”

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Affleck also said it’s curious the city is delegating a job its crews already appear to do.

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“The best analogy I can think of is if it was my kids, if I tell them to clean their bedroom, I want them to clean the bedroom, every single corner,” Affleck said Friday.

“It’s not like I can delegate that to somebody else — clean your room.”

The city RFP is also looking for a contractor which will provide job support and applied skills training opportunities for youth and adults facing barriers to traditional employment, will help strengthen relationships and collaboration with community partners, City staff and community members, and will help connect people living on the street with available supports and services.

As the Chinatown steward for EMBERS Eastside Works, Richard Young works four-hour micro-cleaning shifts three days a week, and said he’s collected 2,000 needles over five years.

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“We do wellness checks because there’s a lot of people sleeping on the street, and we stop to look to see if they’re breathing,” Young said in an interview Friday.

Young, who carries naloxone, said he’s resuscitated at least seven people during his time in the stewardship role.

“The cleaning is the major component but the other component of this obviously, is to community-build,” Zupan said.

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While the city said VANDU put too much emphasis on community building, the mayor is confident staff will hire the best service provider this time.

“A lot of the times these things work without a glitch,” Ken Sim told Global News in an interview.

“And sometimes we have glitches and guess what, you can’t expect perfection all the time but it’s how you react to it and in this situation the service levels weren’t being met, and so we made a change.”

The city’s RFP closes on Jan. 23. Once awarded, the new contract is expected to start in early February and run through July.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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