Empty businesses on Granville strip a magnet for street disorder

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Granville Street in 1967. Flikr Photo

The more than 30 empty businesses that remain vacant along a popular downtown strip are a haven for “street campers”, according to police.

Police said they are working with business owners to fill vacant buildings on Granville Street to reduce street disorder, an issue they said is the most common complaint they receive. Business owners who want to create high-end retail and live music venues are frustrated by barriers to getting permits to renovate, some because of heritage status designation, according to the VPD. The old Granville Cinema building on 800 block between Smithe and Robson is one of them.

“These vacant storefronts are a magnet for street campers and the drug-addicted,” Cst. Bryan Nykon, an officer from the Granville Downtown South Community Policing Centre said at a police board meeting Thursday, “[The cinema owners] have also been frustrated by being denied a deconstruction permit for the theatre awning which is an epicentre for street campers on the block.”

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Pedestrians walk on Granville Street while “street campers” take shelter under the awnings of vacant buildings.Caitlin O’Flanagan Photo

 Cst. Blake Chersinoff, who patrols on bicycle with Nykon, said street disorder is a problem in the area.

“Whether it’s stray dogs on Granville Street, whether it’s urinating, homeless people in front of the businesses, we speak with a number of business owners that are frustrated with people coming into their business and panhandling right in front of their stores, or they’re concerned about their staff taking a garbage can out and getting pricked by needles,” Chersinoff said in an interview outside the meeting.

According to Nykon, “street campers” are people they encounter regularly who also face barriers getting help, but some do not want it.

“The majority of these instances, they seem comfortable where they are. They’re given food, money which they use for, you know, other purposes,” he said.

The Vancouver Homeless Count 2016 found that more than three-quarters of the 1,176 homeless people surveyed said they had slept outdoors or in a car at least once in the past year. Just over 25 per cent said they were turned away from the shelter the previous night.

The 2017 count will be on March 7 and 8.

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