Growing social problems in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside forcing businesses out

'Getting worse by the day'

An independent restaurant in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is closing its Hastings Street location due to what management is calling "deplorable conditions" in the area.

Balila, a Middle Eastern restaurant, opened up on West Hastings in early 2018. But, the business has announced it is closing at the end of the month, not only because of the ongoing pandemic but also because "the conditions of the area are getting worse by the day."

Residents and business owners in the area have been increasingly vocal the last few months about the tent city that arose in Strathcona Park following dismantling of one at Oppenheimer Park, as well as the volume of crime in the neighbourhood. 

The most recent homeless count conducted in March showed there were 2,095 people in Vancouver who were either living in some form of shelter, or on the street, including those residing in recreational vehicles and cars, of which there are many at the edge of Strathcona Park.

Coun. Pete Fry, who lives in Strathcona and was recently threatened on a sidewalk by a man saying he would stab him, outlined some of those concerns last month in addressing park board commissioners.

“There have been trip-line booby traps, bear bangers shot at park users, threats with weapons, swarmings, verbal accosting and physical assaults directly as a result of the encampment,” Fry said.

Balila's operators say they "fear for our customers' health and safety as well as [that] of our team members and partners," at the Hastings location, saying the problems are "evident to the naked eye."

Those problems, explain the owners, are driving customers away and hurting Balila's bottom line: "Our sales levels have not been sustainable within the Hastings area. Our decision, to the most, is based on an area that brings strong concerns to both the mental and physical health of our Balila family, our partners, and most certainly our customers."

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