Recorded over 18 months, the documentary STOP THE SWEEPS shows the battle to end street sweeps, the formation of the Hastings Tent City, and the beginnings of its decampment, with footage of forced evictions filmed up to January 2023. The premiere screening drew a crowd of over 300 community members in solidarity with the fight against forced displacement.
June 24, 2023 – As community members filed in, the auditorium at Japanese Language Hall began to ring with connections old and new. Organizations handed out harm reduction supplies and eviction defense info, while others raised funds by selling t-shirts and artwork. Outside the hall, Distro Disco pulled up their van to distribute critical survival gear. When 2pm arrived, the hall was filled to capacity.
On June 24th, the Stop the Sweeps Coalition came together a few blocks from Hastings Street for the premiere screening of STOP THE SWEEPS. The documentary, made by local filmmaker and organizer Ryan Sudds, follows the ongoing work of community members, residents, and supporters to bring an end to street sweeps – the inhumane city practice of displacing unhoused people from public spaces and stealing their belongings. As Meenakshi Mannoe, organizer and author of the Stop the Sweeps report states, “the story of street sweeps is the story of Vancouver: a city that churns people through constant, cyclical displacement while failing to invest in solutions and infrastructure to support unhoused community members.” Evidence of these state failings in the film is overwhelming. Residents describe the brutality of the VPD, the utter lack of adequate housing, and the daily harassment and threat of dispossession via the sweeps. The film opens with Blue, a beloved member of the Coalition, describing how the baby photos of her children were stolen by city workers during a sweep. “They come in and do sweeps every morning, take our possessions,” says another resident, Edgar. “But this is our home.”
Mannoe describes street sweeps as “municipal violence – led by city workers and police officers, but justified by senior city staff and elected officials.” Throughout the documentary, Sudds pays particular attention to these state actors who enact and legitimize the sweeps, often by obscuring their actions through manufactured city narratives. In one poignant scene, City Engineering manager Mike Zupan – who has orchestrated the decampment of multiple tent cities in Vancouver – alleges that a resident named Lana is “voluntarily” taking down her tent. The absurdity of this claim is caught on film, as Lana confronts the city manager. “But you know this isn’t voluntary, right?” she asks him. Her words cut through the bureaucratic obfuscation and make it strikingly clear that this is a forced, involuntary eviction – with nowhere to go, in the middle of a snowstorm. The clip ends with images of city workers tearing down Lana’s tent with VPD standing by. As VANDU organizer Hamish Ballantyne stated in an interview about escalating decampments over the winter, “nothing is voluntary when there are twenty cops in front of you.”
Sudds filmed the documentary over a span of several years, capturing on-the-fly interviews with residents of the Hastings Tent City and community advocates, as well as City of Vancouver workers, VPD officers, and a brief interaction with Mayor Ken Sim. He highlights the critical importance of both documenting state violence and capturing the community’s own experiences, particularly in the face of city and VPD narratives constructed to purposefully deceive the public. As Sudds states, the documentary “encourages people to take a critical approach to the City of Vancouver’s work, and not believe Mayor Ken Sim when he says that they’re taking a ‘compassionate’ approach to encampments and homelessness.” The film’s release comes only weeks after the Vancouver Sun obtained emails confirming that the City of Vancouver knew that there were only six shelter beds available during the mass decampment of April 5th, countering the lies of Mayor Ken Sim that everyone had been offered a place to go.
As it progresses, the film also depicts the ongoing efforts by community members and advocates to demand an end to the sweeps. Seen on-screen are multiple rallies, marches, press conferences, and the daily counter-patrols initiated to follow and later intervene in the sweeps. VANDU board member Dave Hamm explains the origins of the Coalition’s counter-patrols. “We started monitoring street sweeps because it was becoming very heavy handed and oppressive. We thought it would be good to get out there and document it.” As the Coalition began to monitor the daily dispossession, it became apparent that the City did not want their actions to be observed. “The reaction we got from the city and the police was definitely what we wanted – we wanted them to feel that they were being observed and held accountable,” says Hamm. “We want an end to continued decampments that violate people’s human rights and their right to shelter in place.” The documentary follows the escalating decampments up to early 2023, a few months before the mass VPD-led decampment in April 2023. During these winter months, the city began implementing barricades and ‘work zone’ policies to prevent community members and advocates from intervening in decampments. Similarly, the city set up ‘media exclusion zones’ and conveniently shut down traffic cameras during the April decampment. The critical work of this documentary is to expose what the City of Vancouver is consistently trying to hide from sight: its cruel, perpetual displacement of the unhoused residents of Vancouver.
In the months since April, the City has continued to send out daily crews who scour the city and look to evict people sheltering in public space. The sweeps continue, displacing visible poverty while safeguarding soaring real estate values and paving the way for resurging post-lockdown tourism and neighbourhood gentrification. But the Coalition saw almost four hundred community members come out in solidarity with the fight against forced displacement. The afternoon of June 24th ended with a discussion about how to join the struggle and saw strong collective energy from a community mobilizing to put an end to daily displacement.
In its final scenes, the film concludes with a moment of silence to honour those lost to the toxic drug supply, the war on the poor, and at the hands of colonial state violence. Names echoed around the auditorium before silence fell on-screen and amidst the audience.
Rest in power, Blue.
The Stop the Sweeps Coalition will continue to screen the documentary in venues across so-called Vancouver throughout the year. Keep an eye here for updates and email email@example.com if you want to set up a screening in your community.