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A resident advocate’s view of the Downtown Eastside

February 20th, 2009 · 45 Comments

In case some of you missed this in the comments, here is Wendy Pedersen’s take on her neighbourhood, which she advocates for through the Carnegie Community Action Project.


Hello. If you want to know what low-income DTES residents think about their neighbourhood, you can read this report:
Its called Nothing About Us Without Us and its written for an association of 5000 low-income residents called the Carnegie Association.
I’ve been in the DTES for 20 years, both my kids were born here and it reminds me of the fishing community I grew up in – and it has the same economic pressures that threaten to disperse it….big market forces do squeeze out the little guys.
Right now we’re doing a mapping sessions with low-income residents – we’re mapping people’s most meaningful places and asking them why. We have some UBC students helping and both of them say that they cannot believe the interconnection, depth of history, connection to place and meaningfulness that exists here. They say they could not make a similar map of their own neighbourhood. Here’s some things people said about Oppenheimer Park (direct quotes): I helped raise the totem pole with the eagle on top…..we had a kissing booth at the hard times festival…its like zocalo Mexico where everyone sits on the outside looking in…its where 1000’s of people gathered for the On To Ottawa trek…there’s always someone there to have a conversation with about what’s happening….years ago we had a vision quest there.
And the Carnegie Centre: “Its our living room…..its my kitchen….its a place of change…it means alot to me…its the first place I’ve ever found with people who are comfortable with who I am…its the centre of my community, my social life is tied here, it branches out from here…..Carnegie kitchen was my first volunteer position. It was the first time in my life that I was open and honest about my drug addiction. When I told them in the kitchen, they didn’t judge me, and accepted me. It was a big step towards my recovery……In the early 1980’s i was the president of the united acupuncture centre of BC, we used to meet here in the Learning Centre. That was what made acupuncture legal to have it and covered by medical. It was very important what you did, says someone else…..its where I can be a pow wow dancer.” At some of these sessions, people have burst into tears when talking about the missing women. We also talk about the uncomfortable places. People say the forlorn places with no lights are not safe. They don’t like condos because people who move in them look down on you etc.
I don’t think the public really understands (or maybe even cares) who lives here and what they think. Institutionalization of people in the are is not the answer. Building on community and good relationships definitely is.
As a researcher whose job it is to help the low-income community develop a vision for the future, I’m fairly obsessed with Francis’ questions and I thank her for framing them so well.
Are there any unexpected upsides to having such a concentration in one area?, she asks. What some people call ghetto, we call community. People give you a cigarette if you need one. Most people nod at you as you walk down the street. Sometimes it takes a long time to get home because you have so many conversations at street corners. People tell lots of stories about you at your funeral. At one of the visioning sessions someone at the Aboriginal Front Door said: I like being me and I like being known. We quote that in the report.
There are 5000 hotel rooms in the area and not many of them are rented at $375 any more and welfare/min wage are not keeping up with inflation. This survival mode has made it easier for the black market to take hold of people for sure. 30 years ago, people would go to the store and buy a newspaper, or out for breakfast, even if on welfare. 2 million a month has been sucked out of the neighbourhood because welfare has not kept up to the 1970’s level in terms of cost of living.
Why the Downtown Eastside bothers people so much? Is it the visible drug-selling and drug-taking? says Francis. I think the open drug market has been a double edged sword too. It has sheltered the 10,000 or so low-income people not in the drug trade from the impact of gentrification because I agree, its just too hard for the upper classes to take. But for those of us willing to live with it, we get cheaper stores, cheaper housing, tight knit community, decades long friendships and a sharing of resources that builds a sense of how to be together that doesn’t exist in other places in Vancouver. That’s the part that reminds me of the old fishing community. We also have the rich Indigenous, Chinese and working class cultures that have been established here for a century or more to enjoy. Suprisingly few low-income residents name the outside drug market as a problem. When we probe about this we find that most residents have a sophisticated view of addiction and want treatment on demand and housing etc….they care more about getting at the roots of the problem than punishing those who are trapped by it. The Carnegie Association won’t ask the police to move people off the corner because of this.
So, to everyone who is reading this, maybe this challenges your view of my neighbourhood, maybe not. Think of me with my 2 kids who have the priviledge of growing up in a really tight community like their grandparents did. We wouldn’t get that in any other area of Vancouver except maybe for some remaining pockets of Italians around Commercial Drive, if we were Italian.
I would take away the drug trade any day, but then we need something in its place (like zoning, rate of change bylaw, replace the hotels with decent housing, more low-income housing, commitment to a mix of incomes 75% low to 25% high?) to shelter this area from losing the concentration of low-income people, oops, I mean the community, that wants to stay together (95% of the 650 surveyed in the report above said they want to stay if they have decent housing).

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  • not running for mayor

    While no one can question Wendy’s heart I think we have to question her brain. Seriously “we don’t mind the open drug trade because it keeps the area from gentrification” She needs to give her head a shake. That open drug market is prey on the very poor and venerable she claims to be so concerned about. The harm that the merchants of death are causing are much worse then any yuppie with a teacup dog would do. Also stating that the area should remain 75% poor is pretty absurd, why not wish that those poor people could become unpoor, seems like a better goal to aim for.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Brilliant retort to Wendy, who I am sure means well! Absolutely brilliant. Maybe you should eventually run for mayor.

  • Yeah, “brilliant”. Except that she didn’t say that she “didn’t mind the open drug trade”, she said that she would “would take away the drug trade any day”.

    It’s naive at best and dangerous at worst to think that gentrifying an area will raise the standard of living of its residents. What happens instead is that those residents are driven out. Obviously Wendy opposes that, as do I.

  • Stephanie

    You’ve both illustrated Wendy’s point quite well – as a general rule, people aren’t much interested in what actual low-income DTES residents think about their neighbourhood. If you were interested, you’d have read her comments with a little more care.

    Wendy didn’t say “we don’t mind the open drug trade because it keeps the area from gentrification” – that’s a grossly simplified reduction of her point. She said it’s a “double-edged sword” because it also creates a barrier to gentrification, which low-income residents also see as a threat to their well-being – in other words, many low-income DTES residents view the relative threats of gentrification and the drug trade with considerable ambivalence. And her position is that she’d get rid of it any day – there’s no indication that she does not understand the significant harm it brings to DTES residents.

    We aren’t going to get anywhere with the significant problems this neighbourhood faces when we flail at straw men instead of engaging with the actual substance of what people have to say.

  • hohoho

    Sorry, but, comparing the drug problem that plagues the DTES to gentrification is just ridiculous. This is the kind of bullshit reasoning that assures the DTES will get worse and worse every year. Perhaps Wendy enjoys bumping into crackheads and meth addicts shitting and vomiting in the streets after breaking into your car or apartment to steal your belongings for drugs. Is that the community Wendy and her fellow povertarians would like to preserve? Because that’s exactly what they are doing.

  • Denis

    We lived in a Co-Op on Alexander street and locals do worry about genrification in the area. A bunch of condos were built next door and they never stopped complaining all the time we lived there. They didn’t like the poor, or underpaid folks in the same block. No we didn’t get a subsidy, we paid market rent, as did many others. If anyone can remember John Turvey who worked in that are for years they will know John used to talk about the gentrification of the area. My better half sat on the DEYAS board and was happy to do so. The Carnegy Center was our library. No fixed address needed if you wnated to sign out a book or so. In come the condos, and the folks who have lived there for years are supposed to go somewhere else. Where would they go? The great majority of folks down there are not into drugs. We met retired fishermen, loggers and some folks who will never hold down a job. DEYAS did a lot of good work, set up the first needle exchange. Drugs are a horrible way to exist. But as Harry Rankin used to say. The poor fall down on the sidewalk, the rich fall down on their couches. I was stuck in a wheel chair for almost a year. One day I missed a curb and bent a front wheel. Two older guys came over and dragged me and the chair to our Co-Op. I wasn’t worried about them being behind me and I was unable to get out of the chair, I suggested a few bucks so they could go buy a coffee , something to eat or a beer. They would take nothing beyond me saying thanks.

    A lot of the drug customers don’t live in the area but sure know where the dealers are. If somebody was running drugs in Kits or the higher scale areas of town, they would be pushed out pretty quickly. Lets give the new mayor and council some time to get some cleaning up down in that part of town. Geting rid of the dealers will be a great start.

  • SV

    Now that’s a great comment-mostly for the tone. It’s been getting a bit flamey lately-I won’t mention any names-so thanks Denis.

  • not running for mayor

    I too live in the area, I’m not some outsider looking in. The likes of Wendy Pedersen scare me much more then a Bob Rennie ever could. I agree with you most of the residents aren’t drug users, nor or they criminals or have mental illnesses, just lots of regular people scrapping by. People just like that live all over the city too not just the DTES. They won’t dissappear if more condos come into the area. (Contary to Wendy’s propangda there hasn’t been a reduction of SROs in the area, in fact they have increased over the last 3years, I know she likes to quote the 3:1 ratio of new markethousing to SROs being built, well that doesn’t mean there are less SROs they are still increasing, condos are just increasing at a quicker pace, that’s not displacing anyone it’s adding more low income people as well as higher income people.
    Notice the lack of regular retail in the area? A increase in disposable income in the area will bring more options to the area which will help everyone out. Broaded up stores don’t aid anyone. Heck just Woodwards is bringing in a TD bank, a London Drugs and a grocery store who can tell me that won’t improve the life of those that live near by, no longer forced to buy items in a convenience store. I’ll also agree with you that something needs to be done about the open drug market, what I don’t know hence my username, I admit I don’t have the answer.

  • Yay! Thanks tons Francis. Maybe you could hyperlink the words “Francis’s Questions” to the original post so people don’t have to search for it.

    Its in this sentence:

    As a researcher whose job it is to help the low-income community develop a vision for the future, I’m fairly obsessed with Francis’ questions and I thank her for framing them so well.


  • A. G. Tsakumis

    I worked on the DTES for many years. The povertarians and the drug industry enablers are THE problem, believe me.

    The folks down there need compassion through treatment, all sorts of it: drug treatment, specific targeting of manipulators of al sorts, appropriate housing, etc.

    What they are getting, thus far, are bandage solutions.

    Nothing more. Makes one quite sad indeed.

  • Bruce

    The drug-use issue has existed in the DTES for at least seventy years. We have similar levels of addiction, it’s just in plain sight now because it was forced out by closing all the indoor places people used to buy and use in the 40’s-70’s. Drug-use can really suck, but the street-use we see today isn’t a new problem unique to this neighborhood.

    And I agree with Wendy that having a crappy/”scary” neighborhood can keep the rents down. Gentrification is about profit, not quality of life improvement. It’s about churning populations. We move the middle classes to the suburbs and create inner-city slums. Then we move all the rich children back into the city and move the poor out to the suburbs (or just onto the street). Every step makes profit for real-estate speculators. And every step destroys communities people have built over generations.

    Bluntly, I sometimes have more pity for crack-dealers than for real-estate speculators. Both profit off the suffering of the poor, but only one is seen as a pariah and occasionally goes to jail.

  • Bonnie

    Professionals who KNOW the DTES and the people, need fluid co-operative communication with accessability to action in order fill the gaps and cracks. The “Billy’s cookie is bigger than mine” is pictured by the scattering of funding with a domino effect. The problems are 24 seven, no stats and W/E off. Forget the “Four Pillars” – it is an over-used catch term with no foundation. The DTES is pie with cupcakes satelliting to all lower mainland areas. The First Nations Healing Circle depicts the needs of all; Spiritually, Intellectually, Emotionally and Physically. There must INTERVENTION,ASSESSMENT,
    DETOX,TREATMENT and RECOVERY – a circle with no peices of the “pie” missing. Quit trying to “fix” a flat tire by turning it over again and again. The marginalized and dual diagnosed person has moved from the Health Ministry budget to the Attourney General budget. The result is a frightened mentally disadvantaged human being who is noncompliant or lacks the support in the DTES. There’s Riverview – open the doors and where are the people? Caught up in the Court and Correctional system that’s where! What a frustration for Police Officers; over and over not to mention the clogging of the Court System and Correctional facilities.
    Get to the root and reasons and don’t stop after raking the surface. IT DOES NOT WORK it merely placates so it “looks like” something is being done. I know, saw, did, cried, hugged and loved my 30+ years working the DTES during the nasty hours.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Do any of the “purveyors of hysteria” seriously believe that drug gangs earn billions in profit each year by selling to the 5,000 addicts living on welfare in the DTES? Unlike social housing/services and low-income residents, illegal (and legal) drugs are NOT concentrated in the DTES. They are bought, sold and consumed from Point Grey to Boundary Road and from Burrard Inlet to the Fraser River. There’s an open drug market in every campus and high school and neighbourhood in this city. Two million Canadians wilfully break the law and smoke pot at least once a week. Little Jimmy who lives next door to you in Kerrisdale is just as likely to have smoked crack in Sam Sullivan’s van as you or me.

    So what I find ridiculous is the media and VDP force-feeding the public hysterical tripe about chaos and street disorder and “purveyors of death”. It creates a perfect justification for why the VDP should spend more and more taxpayers’ money to infringe on the civil liberties of people in one neighbourhood of the city in order to clean it up for the Olympics: the public demands action! But as Wendy, Jeanette and others posting here have pointed out, most residents don’t feel threatened by the street scene, other than the fact that everyone talks to and knows each other (which is frightening to most Vancouverites, who prefer their little silos, but actually, this is the very definition of CIVILITY). I’ve been raising a kid in this area for 5 years and have lived here on and off since the early 1990s without incident.

    We all remember what happened before Expo 86, right? And how we all vowed we would never let it happen again? Well, the VDP are counting on public ignorance and hysteria generated by sensational clap-trap like the Phoenix Project to get taxpayers to fund and assent to a despicable policy once again. It’s not very comforting to know that otherwise intelligent and discerning people seem to have swallowed it so easily. So history repeats.

  • Jane

    “Little Jimmy who lives next door to you in Kerrisdale is just as likely to have smoked crack in Sam Sullivan’s van as you or me.”

    Bwaaaaa HAAAA HAAAA! Thank you.

  • Rolf Auer

    Frankly, I’m tired of comments about “povertarians” from the likes of A. G. Tsakumis and others. This pejorative perhaps–and I do say perhaps–pertains to a very few anti-poverty workers but has the overall effect of painting all efforts by such workers as living off the avails of the very poor. I normally don’t even read comments from A. G. Tsakumis because of remarks like his (which are so obviously biased) but I couldn’t help it because I’m interested in the thread.

    I compliment Wendy Pedersen for speaking frankly about the good points and yes, also the bad points of the DTES. I hope to hear more from here.

  • Rolf Auer

    Sorry, last sentence should be “I hope to hear more from her.”

  • Not Uninterested

    Wendy Pedersen claims, “But for those of us willing to live with it, we get cheaper stores, cheaper housing, tight knit community, decades long friendships and a sharing of resources that builds a sense of how to be together that doesn’t exist in other places in Vancouver.”

    I call bullshit on this notion of the DTES as a magical place full of sharing and co-operation that doesn’t exist in other parts of Vancouver. How does Wendy Pedersen presume to know what kind of relationships people in South Main, the West End, south Fraser, etc. have with their communities? Answer: she can’t, but it is easy to caricature the non-DTES parts of the city as Yaletown Lite, or something close to it, when the truth is actually a lot more complex. But acknowledging that truth would mean admitting that the DTES is not as unique a place as Wendy seems to think it is.

    I’d prefer to see fully funded treatment beds over “visioning exercises” every day. Lack of fully funded treatment for those drug users who would like to quit, is, in my view, criminal. I understand that funding drug treatment (eg., detox and recovery, as opposed to harm-reduction or “maintenance” strategies) is not as glamorous as attending rallies, or busting sidewalk dealers, or pumping money into well-meaning consultation sessions, consciousness-raising seminars, private security, etc. etc. etc. But it is one of the last options that has not, so far as I can tell, been tried by any level of government or private initiative.

  • Well who would have guessed…the people of the DTES are people not animals 😉

    Hohoho said…”This is the kind of bullshit reasoning that assures the DTES will get worse and worse every year. Perhaps Wendy enjoys bumping into crackheads and meth addicts shitting and vomiting in the streets after breaking into your car or apartment.. yada yada”

    Okay guy we get it….
    Perhaps you should read the report in full,rather than concentrating one one small out of context aspect ,better yet move into the DTES and get to know the people there.
    Life is not as negative or bleak as you seem to think,lighten up,learn to empathize.Again the majority are good decent people.
    Anyway good luck.

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  • Gorewell

    I think the poor really resent being lumped in with thieves, pimps, drug dealers and junkies.

    Gentrification will push out those elements, it won’t push out “the poor”.

  • Rick Stanley

    It would seem that the bottom line is that the various governmental and non-governmental groups (Hi Wendy!) that handle poverty don’t really want poverty to disappear because it would put them out of work.

  • njb

    From this story:

    “On the north side of Powell and Main is the $1,000-a-month suite she shares with her two children in the Four Sisters housing co-op. Across the street is the Concord Pacific Smart condo, with 90 units priced from $239,500 to more than $500,000.”

    At current rates (5 year fixed at ING, 4.34%) a $239,500 condo would cost $1304.35 per month. Likely these condo prices will go down. Likely interest rates will go down. So we have condos that have some units priced (monthly) close to market rate co-ops. We can discuss the minutae (that the cheapest units are likely tiny, and the extra $304.35 per month makes them unattainable). But, for argument’s sake: the unit would be owned after 25 years. It could be left as a legacy to two daughters, who could sell it, or rent it out to deserving low income people in the future. Home ownership is not all evil. If attainable it provides security and stability for future generations of a family. Some of the original co-ops in Vancouver were built in False Creek, alongside condos, because it was believed that a mixed income model was better for all (to prevent ghetto-ization of co-op tenants), I’m pretty sure that model in False Creek has been successful. The co-ops are still there and it’s a lovely neighbourhood.

  • hohoho

    Dirk, I live in the DTES, where do you live?

  • coldwater

    njb: that’s assuming you have a 15-20% down payment and your income will go up as the interest rate does as well. It doesn’t necessarily follow that for a family of 3-4 on one income that can afford a housing charge of $1000, owning is either as affordable or better.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    To pick up on Bruce’s historical thread:

    You can go much farther back than 70 years: in the 1800s the old “East End” (as the DTES was originally known) had a high concentration of hotels, alcohol, prostitution, homelessness, gambling, police, charities (churches) and, yes, narcotics — Gaolor’s Mews, Chinatown and many of today’s SRO hotels are some of the oldest buildings in the city. This “lifestyle” has been a part of Vancouver — like every other port city in the history of the world — since day one. The man whose statue is on top of the stump of the old maple tree where we were officially declared a city isn’t a politician or an explorer, he’s the rather long-winded chap who purveyed whiskey (gasp!) in the bar behind the tree. And let’s not forget, some of our most successful 20th century families built their Southlands mansions (and so much more) with bootlegging profits made between wars.

    It’s also worth noting that Canada’s prohibition against opium was not an abolitionist-motivated law, it was a racially-motivated piece of legislation that was punitive to the Chinese. It was, of course, spun in abolitionist terms, and the owners of the opium dens in West Coast ports were surely called far worse names than “purveyors of death.” But in practice, the prohibition was a thinly-disguised legislative tool that, along with the Head Tax, was used to strip a specific group of people of their economic and political rights whenever a crackdown was deemed expedient (sound familiar?). Cannabis soon replaced opium as a milder, legal plant to import and sell, but it was prohibited several years later.

    Nearly a century has passed, and the feds now spend $1.5 billion dollars a year enforcing the prohibition on cannabis alone (10 times more than they spend on social housing). If you add in all the patchwork of provincial and municipal resources spent enforcing this law, it becomes a staggering amount of money and time (and they are asking for more!). And yet, two million Canadians wilfully break this law and smoke pot at least once a week. If you apply the same logic you use to label social services “povertarians” to the enforcement/legal bureaucracy regulating cannabis, you find a bloated, duplicated, expensive beast that nevertheless doesn’t have any control over the widespread sale and use of the substance. Does that mean our police and lawmakers are Cannabisarians?

    Amidst a string of gang murders and a deep recession, the bottom line is that it is incredibly difficult to argue (without resorting to hyperbole) that this is a sound fiscal policy that’s benefiting taxpayers, yielding results, or making our streets any safer. It would take a fraction of the resources spent enforcing the cannabis prohibition to successfully address the #1 systemic problem for those with serious drug addictions: the lack of long-term treatment beds. And for that problem, Gordon Campbell’s Liberals are to blame.

    Better stop, I’m getting gassy!

  • njb

    “It doesn’t necessarily follow that for a family of 3-4 on one income that can afford a housing charge of $1000, owning is either as affordable or better.” No, it doesn’t, nor did I say it did.

  • not running for mayor

    Why do people think legalizing pot would make any difference on matters? It might increase taxes with one hand but the government would lower them equally in another dept, that would be the only way any legalization could ever be sold to the public. But it would do zero against gangs and violence, they would move into other sectors, smuggling dope into the states, other harder drugs, even if we legalized those as well they would still look for easy money instead of working for a living. Probably see an increase in kidnappings for ransom, more identity theft etc etc. Those people do not want to work nor will they. So please lets stop pretending legalizing drugs will curb crime.

  • wow – it sure is easy to tell the constructive comments from the flamers, isn’t it?

    I am just in awe of what Wendy and her band of DTES volunteers have been able to accomplish with their always kind-spirited actions in the hood. Just look at how mainstream media coverage of the neighbourhood has (not so much changed as) broadened in scope over the past year or two. Now, alongside the usual “OMG look at that loser!” nightly news story, we also get to see local people brightly stand up for their community with dignity.

    Who knows, maybe it’s not too late for this city to wake up and see what a treasure it has in the DTES, and what humbling lessons are available to be learned here.

  • not running for mayor

    I think it’s actually easier to tell which people think the current course is working and which feels there is a major change needed. I don’t think any of the poverty workers mean harm or are trying to prolong the situation to extend their livelihoods. But I do believe there approach isn’t working and hasn’t been for long enough. It’s now time to try another approach and see if it’s more successful. I have a hard time believing,unlike Wendy, that a different method would be worse then the status quo.

  • foxtrot

    Wow. Lots of good discussion. Though I think it would be more fun if people looked more at common values and building off each other’s comments rather than breaking them down (don’t bruise my ego as it drives my point home!).

    Someone said that people “handling poverty” would be out of work if we ended poverty… Certainly true in the short term. I know Wendy and others would rather play with children and perhaps run a business or what-have-you. I don’t want to be in a world with poverty, but as long as I am I cannot ignore it. Good work Wendy and others. I think this point is valid for some governmental structures perhaps. Mechanisms like our correctional system are like a Juggernaut.

    Another person’s idea that gentrification will only push out the street- entrenched people involved in “illegal” activities, and not people who are just plain poor, is very hopeful! Gentrification sounds good then! Except that those individuals resorting to “illegal” activities are there two. They are my brothers and sisters.

    Another person commented that the open drug market is all across the city. This is true. This is an issue close to me as many of my friends are acquiring employment through this industry. Emery would say “stop the war on drugs”… this idea sounds worth thinking about. I would say: make secondary education super duper accessible, if not free. And make sure every child has the highest quality of standardized care from daycare to grade 12. Make mechanisms to get my buddies trained in what they dream of doing. I know lots of people who sell drugs. None of them had this choice of work as a childhood dream. None at all. The school system failed them (and many other systems, like being in-care of the ministry).

    I might be doing deals the same as my friends, except that I decided to bite the bullet and accept the system labeling me “learning disabled” so that I could get a financial break and the supports I need to make sense of college. I can tell you, with no lie, that it was more difficult for me to manipulate and claw and stumble through my first two years of college than it was for me to squiggle and wiggle away from ten dudes attempting to stop my face into the pavement in the intersection of Broadway and Fraser.

    I guess my point is that if we as a city can create good options for a good life, people are going to choose that life. Drug dealing takes in the same crowd that may have enlisted for army service decades ago: daring able-bodied young people without any money to make any career plans come true.

    Just another point of view. Thanks everyone for sharing your insights with me!

  • foxtrot

    I was also thinking about employment standards and the cost of living. People tell me that families used to have enough money… jobs used to pay more, rent and mortgages were less.

    I know that to deal with reality we have to get some serious Stop Gap measures to get people off the streets and somewhere warm.

    We are also going to see much more problems if can’t make a decent living at a decent job to raise our kids in a decent home. What happened to the labor rights movement and unions and all that jazz? I am too young, someone tell me what went wrong?

  • As someone who is most definitely standing on the outside looking in, this thread has been very illuminating – thanks everyone.

    Hey GJ’sG–

    I really, really enjoy it when you get gassy.

    In fact, I would be overjoyed if Ms. Bula used your comment to start another great discussion thread in a slightly different context.


  • hohoho

    “Who knows, maybe it’s not too late for this city to wake up and see what a treasure it has in the DTES…”

    Treasure?? Are you fucking kidding me??

  • CV

    When I wander along Hastings, I see an incredible streetscape with so much potential. There are some fantastic gems of buildings from a bygone era before the area was abadoned by the middle class. The existing pro-poverty groups working in the area are doing their best to keep the area from evolving. The whole city is evolving and this place will too. It would be great if it could be returned to its former glory as a lively entertainment and shopping area complete with theatres, etc… so that it’s open to EVERYONE, not just the pro-poverty set.

  • LP

    Interesting comments. It’s sure easy to see who sits on what side of the fence on the DTES. Other than a few very vocal people on the right, the people on the left side of the fence on this issue certainly have a louder voice.

    Whether that’s to drown out the choir, intimidate, or because they feel they’ve been marginalized far too long…is, I guess open to each one’s opinion.

    I do think there are people out there like myself that believe this has gone on far too long, and that the people who’ve been there for the duration are too close to the forest to see the trees.

    There is a reality to life we simply cannot escape. Things change, we all get older and very little ever stays the way we remember when we were kids. Its called evolution and for the most part it’s unstoppable.

    Apparently regarding the DTES – evolution is called gentrification.

    Evolution needs to happen, and unfortunately that means demographics change by area/neighborhood and trying to keep them the same will cause the type of calamity that takes part on many of those streets.

    I doubt very much if you asked anyone on January 1st if they’d like a better year then the last, they’d say no. As a society for the most part, people want to be more successful, have more money, have a better quality of life year after year. Doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, everyone would like things to get better.

    Somehow though, so many want that little corner of the city to stay the same, to fight evolution, in the name of affordability, community, etc…..

    Good luck to those, I’m not sure when the last battle against evolution was ever won. I suppose you can grow old believing that you fought the good fight even if you did lose in the end.

    Personally that wouldn’t satisfy a bunch of us. Some would like to try a new approach since the “beating our heads against the wall as a strategy” seems to be failing.

  • Jeannette M

    @CV who are these people who are stopping the area from evolving? I’ve not heard a single person working in DTES speak out *against* re-development of the Pantages theatre, but I’ve heard many people in other neighborhoods call fowl.

    I live down here, and while “the current methodologies” aren’t necessarily working – the people who are working down there are doing what they can to provide compassionate care to those who are marginalised in lieu of other services.

    The Union Gospel, Salvation Army, other churches, and even the “reviled” PHS don’t have the mandate or the means to employ entirely new treatment methods for addicts and homeless and mentally ill: They are not responsible for creating detox beds, mental health hospitals, or subsidised housing throughout the province. They do what they do because they are mandated independantly to provide compassionate support and assistance. To expect these organisations to do otherwise is naive.

    Do you think that any of these organisations would be upset if the provice suddenly opened 2,000 new detox beds, 2,000 mental health/assisted living beds, and 10,000 units of social housing dispersed throughout the province – and a corresponding program to co-ordinate services to get people to these places? Does anyone really think that should some government actually have the balls to change the entire way we approach the margninalised people that the PHS or the Union Gospel Mission would suddenly cry fowl?

    The “povertarians” do what they do because – no one else is doing anything – they do what they do because if they didn’t do anything, who would do something? They do what they do because they cannot stand to close their eyes to the things the rest of us tune out as we drive down Hastings on our morning commute.

    The DTES IS a treasure. In any other city, a Heritage district like this would be treasured and well looked after. Is blind Gentrification the answer? No – look at Coal Harbour – we don’t need another soulless neighborhood. Is careful planning, including mixed income housing in DTES and ALL neighborhoods going to help? YES. I don’t hear many povertarians getting upset when new social housing units are announced for Kits.

    But you know, as much as it’s easy to stand back from a distance and say that everything going on there is completely wrong, that we shouldn’t make a new ghetto, etc., god forbid we put low incoming housing in YOUR back yard. I’ve never heard any of the people who rant about the DTES advocate for social housing in THEIR neighborhoods…. funny, that.

  • njb

    I think the life of comments on this post has come to its natural end, but I can’t help but add this link to a recent Tyee story to bolster my points above. The article is called “No Money Down Mortgages Still a Good Idea? This One Works” with the subtitle: “Helping renters buy homes, leave social housing, makes space for others.”

  • I am going to use this post to promote my special interest in the DTES. I want the Gregor Shelters and the Cold and Wet Weather Shelters to remain open 365 days a year. A letter just written by the Vancouver Downtown Business Association has stated that street disorder is down because of the Gregor Shelters. However, even with this evidence the emergency shelters all are going to be closing on March 31st leaving up to 900 street homeless seeking the sidewalks to sleep on again. Judy Graves says in addition to the emergency shelters 500 people still sleep outside. Although I have tried to get the DTES community organizations interested in demanding that we look after our most vulnerable with shelters (Storyeum) all I got was politeness. We love your idea but we are going to do anything to help you. Everyone in the DTES is enamoured with Housing First rather than Shelters First. Wendy Pedersen and all those affiliated with the Carnegie (which is all of the DTES) are all against shelters. Even VANDU with over one-half of its population homeless is against shelters. If these organizations cared for the community no one would be sleeping on our streets and the rest of us would feel safer. When I spoke to the czar of housing from the USA Philip Mangano he was totally perplexed that the City had a policy of limiting shelters so the street homeless have no where to sleep. He said what are they going to do with the sleep homeless until there is affordable housing. I was horrified when the City’s Housing Centre in an open forum told me this as well. Those that are in the shelters now are happy and I have been told repeatedly that even if social housing was available they would not qualify anyways. As for the non-profits not supporting shelters I will cite one example: DTES Neighourhouse which works closely with Carnegie, if not under Carnegie, continuously takes downposters I put up advising of shelters and in particular the flier directing the street homeless to the United Church Mission Shelter at Main and Gore.

  • Not running for mayor

    Why do people keep suggesting Storyuem for a homeless shelter, do they not notice that it’s underground and doesn’t provide enough entry/exits to be used as a dormatory? Could you imagine the liability should there be a fire with 200hundred people sleeping down there?
    This is tongue in cheek but why not suggest BC Place as a homeless shelter, you could fit thousands and thousands of homeless people, it’s empty most nights and every night after 11pm at the latest. If there’s no trade show going on you even have space to store everyones buggys. Not to mention there are plenty on entry/exits, washrooms are already built in, there are even shower facailities.

  • To the not running for mayor comment February 25 2009. Storyeum was used only as a location to let the City voters know there are places that the City owns and could be made into shelters overnight. Be it Storyeum or BC Place or somewhere else. From me wanting DTES shelters it became obvious to me that the community did not want them and it is the community who is responsible for the dire state of the DTES and not the street homeless people. I cannot even blame the politicians as they do what the community wants. The DTES says it wants more social housing rather than shelters but we already have 75-80% social housing and the desired level of social housing in any neighbourhood is 8% (Raymond Louie).

  • Rolf Auer

    Wendy Pedersen and the Carnegie Community Action Project have publicly made it known that they are in favour of shelters. What may be bothering Audrey is that Wendy and CCAP are above all in favour of more social housing.

  • The Carnegie Centre is against shelters. Saying something in public to protect its ass after two years of being against it is not being supportive. If the Carnegie had compassion for the needs of its neighbourhood then it would be focusing all its resources to eliminate street homelessness in the DTES.

    Rolf Auger is a personal friend of Jean Swanson, he is on the Board of Carnegie, he is a devoted volunteer working for Wendy Pedersen and he writes letters to media every week.

    In June of 2008 I approached the Board of Carnegie and was told by its President that it had other priorities than going after Storyeum as a shelter. I asked him what priorities were more important. He mumbled something about his funders. Maybe the funders do not want the area changed. I don’t know for sure. But both VanCity and the Real Estate Council both have a vested interested in keeping the DTES property values low. Saying that social housing in an area that has 75 to 85% social housing already seems on the surface to be a waste of time. When I asked City Wide Coalition, a Wendy group, to include shelters in its stands for housing, it refused.

    The things I got from the Wendy groups is tearing down of my fliers and being told that I could not be a volunteer for any of her groups for fear that I would disrupt them. Being allowed to voice another opinion that is so crucial to the survival of the dTES is not being disruptive. I was also removed from all her email lists that she monitors.

    From Wendy’s post it is clear that CCAP wants the status quo to remain as it is so a few residents (supporters) of the DTES can continue to be involved in the free leisure programs in the DTES and to occupy low cost housing.

    There are 6,000 signed up members for Carnegie as memberships are required to play pool. But less than one percent attend Board meetings or vote. The membership doesn’t know what the hell is going on.

    I pray that there will be a revolt of the area residents that will force Carnegie to insist that the area needs additional shelters now.

    On March 31st 2009 the Gregor shelters and the yearly cold and wet weather shelters will be closing forcing 900 shelters user to be on the streets again.

  • Rolf Auer

    First of all, my name is Auer, not Auger, as Audrey continually misspells it. Second, both the Cargnegie Community Centre Association and the Carnegie Community Action Project have written letters of support for Audrey. Third, who I am friends with and what I support has no bearing on this issue. Fourth, Audrey is still on the Save Low Income Housing Coalition listserve of which Wendy is a member. The Carnegie Community Volunteers listserve no longer exists. That’s the one Audrey thinks she is removed from. Fifth, I repeat, CCAP supports the idea of shelters, just not to the exclusion of building social housing (in fact, CCAP considers the latter a greater priority), which is what is upsetting Audrey. Sixth, no members of CCAP have torn down flyers that Audrey has posted, to my knowledge. Seventh, Audrey recently attended a couple of meetings of CCAP. Eighth, what is clear from Wendy’s post is that she (and so many working with her) consider the DTES a vibrant, culturally alive, close-knit community and only wishes the best for it.

  • Rolf Auer

    Just one more comment: I don’t know why Audrey is attacking me personally. I have written letters of support for her to newspapers. Here’s one of them:
    I find that this seems to be a pattern of hers: you (or your organization) help her with something, and she turns around and attacks you (or your organization) later. I’m not expecting gratitude, but attacks in response to helping is disconcerting, to say the least.

  • Bulloze the whole area !! Move the addicts to an addict colony on one of the many islands off BC’s coast and make way for new development where jobs can be created and the stink can finally come off the east side.
    These people are a pariah on society and cannot be fixed.