Welcome to the Downtown Eastside

Woodwards Building, Summer 1999

Good things about this area, this community


It is a community with a history of accepting most anyone. People are generally decent and have evolved to create the social services providing aid and interest.


DERA - the Downtown Eastside Residents Association was formed in 1973 to fight for basic rights in the cockroach hotels and rooming houses. i.e. sprinkler systems, doors that would close and lock, windows that would open. DERA members were instrumental in getting Carnegie re-opened as a community centre. It has developed hundreds of units of housing for low income singles and families in both rental and co-op models. DERA provides advocacy services and assistance in matters relating to welfare, landlord/tenant problems, taxes and EI.


United We Can - this is a major recycling centre for many binners (dumpster divers). It provides cash for collected materials and some employment for people cleaning alleys and lanes.. Those involved lobbied successfully to get many more kinds of containers redeemable, and helps now to augment the incomes of hundreds of recyclers.


Portland Hotel Society - provides housing for people still active in addictions and substance misuse as well as mental health consumers and sex trade workers. Harm reduction, tolerance and psychiatric aid are part of the operation. Older hotels have been purchased and renovated to provide housing and a new hotel is going up.


Sun Yat Sen Gardens - an oasis in the downtown, about 2 blocks from Carnegie. There is both a free side and an entry-fee side to enjoy the tranquility and energy in this classic Chinese setting.


Pigeon Park - a paved corner with trees and benches, it is an open space. It sits outside the base of Co-op Radio, a volunteer run radio station whose programs and possibilities are limited only by the participants' input.


Victory Square - green space across the street from the downtown campus of Vancouver Community College and near the local hemporiums. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is in the building just north of the park, providing excellent analysis and rebuttal to the machinations of the Fraser Institute. The Simon Fraser University downtown campus is about a block-and-a-half farther west.


The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre is an excellent resource for women in need of space, advocacy, food, clothing and referrals.


Crabtree Corner is under the auspices of the YWCA and provides assistance for single and low-income parents. There is both emergency and arranged daycare and a myriad of services.


PRIDE is an acronym for this established project providing the training and job search skills necessary for many to find employment. Bladerunners links youth with construction job sites and trades for training.


DEYAS - the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, operates the needle exchange and has direct input into youth detox, housing, street nurses, and works with people in substance abuse and sexual abuse situations. Much has been done and continues, in conjunction with Watari, the Youth Action Coalition and the Neighbourhood Safety Office, on changes to policing and legislation over the laws on prostitution, procurement of minors for sex and enforcing / rewriting same.


Native Health Society - frontline and unique in providing medical aid, counselling, referrals and addiction services. There are a variety of projects and interests - transsexual safety, drug & alcohol programs, pregnancy options and traditional direction.

Evelyne Saller Centre - a community resource with a cafeteria providing low cost meals, recreational activities, games, pool and TV, and health services including laundry, showers and de-lousing.


Street Orientation Services - SOS is the resource centre for Latino residents, with help on immigration and refugee claims, job searches, substance abuse issues, medical network connections and ESL/job matters. Issues on the head tax and related difficulties are a component of the challenge here.


Four Corners Community Savings - This is a financial institution created by and for low-income residents, with assistance from the legal department of the provincial government. The original and ongoing ideation is to give low income residents and customers the dignity and opportunities available at larger banks, trust companies and credit unions without the class or economic discrimination.


Main&Hastings Community Development Society works on education for non-residents, surveys of locals to determine housing needs and difficulties, has provided excellent housing and is seeking to develop more. Another interesting aspect is the research and exposure of the trend to privatize public space through the introduction of private security forces and bylaws prohibiting panhandling and squeegeeing (by implication, not meeting some arbitrary standard of acceptable appearance set by merchants / property owners.)


Lookout - helping people with tempoary shelter to emergency housing, with drop-in aid for dual diagnosis individuals, mental health consumers and others at the Living Room.


VANDU is the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and provides peer counselling and advocacy for users in matters of housing, medical aid and needs in a harm reduction model.

Various missions and churches operate programs that involve food, clothing, showers, phones, advocacy, referrals, administration of assistance money, rehab, housing and counselling.

The Help in the Downtown Eastside booklet contains the briefest outline of the many groups, services, agencies and organisations in the neighbourhood as a guide to what the community has. Almost every interest has the same underlying factors affecting expression - poverty, decent housing, drug misuse and substance abuse, safety, recreation, jobs and job opportunities, access to training and education, medical aid and security. Every listing and component of work is, of course, limited by space and even words and only touches the surface. This neighbourhood is much more than just the sum of its parts.


bio sphere

Interviewer Rudolf Penner


INT: You come down here quite often to the Carnegie Centre.
MIKKI: Ya, I love the Music Program.
INT: What kind of songs do you sing there?
MIKKI: I like mostly women's songs. We'll Sing in the Sunshine or Dreams or Angel of the Morning or Blue Bayou.
INT: I've heard you sing the same songs quite often. How does that work? You don't mind?
MIKKI: Rob (Doucette) said if I don't sing it enough I won't get used to it, because of stage fright.
INT: I see. What else do you want to talk about in this interview?
MIKKI: Oh, all the nice people who come to Carnegie. They're poor but they don't make each other feel poor. All the friendship and the love that everybody shares, they care about each other. We're like a family.
INT: Oh neat. What kind of experience have you had with say one person about that?
MIKKI: Oh. When I first saw Dean he took a whole bunch of us out for tea, over at where they're playin' live music...
INT: Where was that?
MIKKI: West End. Where the jazz place used to be. Just over that way by Pigeon Park somewhere. Ya they had a jazz thing there, a jazz coffeehouse.
INT: So you're dressed for summer today?
MIKKI: Ya...I got the shorts, the tank top, and the nice summer jacket, so I don't burn (laugh).....I'm glad they don't get sunstroke.
INT: Who?
MIKKI: Me (laugh).
INT: Oh, so what are you going to do after this?
MIKKI: After this probably go home and watch TV like I do every day. Maybe have a game of Crazy 8s or 21, with Cliff (her husband)...
INT: OK. Thanks very much!
MIKKI: OK, you're welcome.

1 + 1 = 2 (...told ya)
Are the chickens finally coming home to roost? Articles in the Vancouver Courier and the Georgia Straight have noted the uncomfortably close connections between Vancouver’s ruling political party, the Non Partisan Association (NPA), and Gastown merchants. In particular, prominent gaspoid property owner JP Shason and anti-poor people propagandist, Grant Longhurst, are intimate-ly tied to Mayor Phil Owen’s NPA Council. Shason, it turns out, is Phil’s bag-man, while his family company actually does the NPA’s printing. According to Courier columnist Allen Garr, Shason also pretty much runs the NPA board of directors.
This is the board that gets to decide which people will be allowed to run for NPA nominations for City Council, Parks Board, and School Board… and whoever gets Shason’s nod will pretty much be a shoe-in for the election in November. He lives in Shaughnessy. Longhurst is a communications consultant with a gastown office who has been involved with the business association. Until recently, Longhurst was also on the NPA board. He quit so that he could work as an NPA staffer, running the upcoming election campaign. He lives in North Vancouver.

So what’s the problem with this? We’re all entitled to be politically active. This is a democracy, after all.

Well, for one thing, Vancouver’s civic politicians are instrumental in deciding what'll happen to the Downtown Eastside. They decide on the kind of zoning and land use policies that ultimately determine whether this remains a community of people with low incomes or becomes a sanitized heritage heaven for yuppies and tourists. These politicians are all NPA members and therefore close associates of these two gastown power-brokers. This is no innocent relationship. Shason has a printing shop in gastown and is one of the area’s major property owners. The value of his properties will increase depending on decisions made by the same civic politicians with whom he is so tight. His record on the Downtown Eastside is pretty dismal. As president of the gastown merchants in the mid-1980s, he actively lobbied against a pedestrian access route to CRAB Park from the Downtown Eastside, favouring instead a route at the bottom of Carrall or Abbott that would help promote gastown business. He has remained a key member of the gastown business improvement association ever since.

Ovaltine Cafe, East Hastings
This is a group that has consistently been hostile to actions that would promote better housing, better services, and improved quality of life for the majority of people who live in this neighbourhood. Instead, they have actively supported policies that promote residential displacement, gentrification, and conversion of residential hotels. [Every business owner in the geographical area called "Gastown", plotted on some map in 1972, must be a member of the Gastown Business Improvement Association. Registration is a requirement under City by-laws and the dues are added onto each business's taxes. It is then used as a political vehicle, regardless of dissent from individual owners. Ed.]

Longhurst has also been an important player in the gastown business group. A couple of years ago he put out an expensive piece of poor-bashing propaganda called The New Downtown, suggesting that the Downtown Eastside was a ghetto and that gentrification would fix the problem really fast. He also represented gastown business in the discuss-ions over the Carrall Street tourist corridor. City Hall has been actively promoting its Downtown Eastside Revitalization Plan, but how can we really trust the elected politicians who are making decisions about the future of the neighbourhood when they are so closely associated with individuals who have consistently attacked this community?

I’m not sure if any of this is a conflict of interest. But given that gastown businesses and property owners stand to make a lot of money on City Council’s zoning decisions, it sure smells like one big ethical stinker. (and do ethics even matter when it comes to profit?)

EA Boyd

The War on Drugs and the Other Side of Immigration to Canada:

The story of Barb H.

Barb H. is one of the newest residents in the Downtown Eastside, but how Barb arrived here is more curious and disturbing than most such tales. At the age of 12 Barb and her family embarked on a wonderful new adventure and moved to southern California from Hamilton Ontario. For Barb her new home was an exciting place, warm and alive with all the sights and sounds of the sixties. Barb lived an ideal kind of adolescence there. In her early twenties Barb went on to marry and give birth to a daughter. Following this her and her husband adopted and took in as foster kids 7 other children, each troubled by abusive backgrounds. For 25 years Barb raised her child and foster kids, enjoyed a happy marriage and had every right to expect a gentle glide in to retirement.. to enjoy the fruits, if you will, of all her labours.

Then tragedy struck. Barb’s husband was stricken with cancer and after a 2 year battle he died. To add to her grief little insurance money was available so to help make ends meet Barb allowed a man with a trailer to rent space in her back yard. Barb heard disturbing rumours of drug dealing but she chose to ignore them and took the man at his word. He swore no drugs were being sold from out of his trailer. One evening about 3 1/2 years ago the police raided both the trailer in her back yard and her home. The man was arrested for dealing speed. Though Barb did not even know of the man’s involvement the police also arrested her too. Under a 1996 California law a landlord can be held criminally libel for any drug dealing done on his or her premises. Barb, a very passive and naďve suburban housewife and widow, was led away to jail.

Listening too well to her court appointed public defender, Barb signed a plea bargain, pled guilty and received a 3 year sentence in the California State Prison system. 16 months were spent in the notorious women’s maximum security prison at Chowchilla, and the remainder at a minimum security facility called Live Oaks. Barb did her time but her troubles were far from over. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service determined that Barb was now unwanted in the USA and arranged to deport her here to Vancouver.

In spite of her status as a permanent resident and having been married to a US citizen for 25 years, Barb had no defence. The day she finished her sentence she was removed to Mann County Jail for 6 weeks then sent to Canada with a handful of immigration documents, her few belongings and less than $200.00 Canadian. From the airport she met a fellow deportee and stayed for several nights in an East Hastings Hotel. From there she spent several nights in a women’s shelter and found suitable but sparse lodgings also here in the Downtown Eastside, where simply her view of the streets is, she says, more shocking than anything she saw in prison.

What can we say about Barb’s plight?

As Canadians we hope such a thing could never happen here. Yet, it was the same hysterical ‘law and order' screaming and the cry for a “War on Drugs” we hear here that led to these repressive California laws and their consequences. This is not to say that our laws haven’t perhaps strayed too far in the opposite direction; it is to remind us of the consequences when we let our emotions alone direct and inform our criminal justice system and our laws. And one of those consequences is that a 50 year old housewife is now living in a place she doesn’t belong, a living counterpoint to the other ‘immigration’ stories we hear of today.

Barry Hames

What Can We Learn From Switzerland
and Germany
About Effective Drug Policy

  This is the last of three Carnegie Newsletter 
articles on a report called Comprehensive 
Systems of Care for Drug Users in Switzerland 
and Frankfurt, Germany, written by Donald 
MacPherson for the Social Planning Department, 
city of Vancouver.
  We can learn from the Swiss and Germans that 
drug use (legal or illegal) is part of the present 
world order, and the problems of drug misuse 
must be dealt with in a practical way that fosters 
the health and safety of all citizens.
  We can learn that the stabilization of a drug 
user’s life through care and respect is important in 
order for that person to take steps towards 
improved health. Abstinence can be a goal of 
harm reduction programs, but it is not the imme-
diate goal. The immediate goal is the reduction of 
drug-related harm to the individual and the 
  We can learn that drug addiction is a serious 
health concern that is inappropriately dealt with 
by the criminal justice system. It is time to 
separate drug users from the criminal elements in 
the illicit drug market, and move towards 
adequate health services. The Canton of Geneva 
has passed a law that says it you are a drug user, 
you must be able to receive treatment without 
waiting, and that includes methadone treatment. 
The same law states that if you are a drug user 
who is not ready to quit, you must have access to 
appropriate health and social services.
  We can learn to balance the issues of public 
health and public order. Sure, harm reduction 
programs cost money, hut the savings in hospita-
lization, emergency services, the courts, crime 
control, and police time spent dealing with ill 
people were significant in Switzerland and Ger-
many, and helped build public support for the 
comprehensive programs. Public order increased 
with harm reduction programs because they 
reduced crime and the street drug scene.
  We in Vancouver can learn that without more 
resources for harm reduction and treatment 
programs in the Lower Mainland, we may 
continue to spend a lot of money for the 
suppression of drug users without any lasting 
effects on the actual harm that individuals and 
communities experience as a result of drug use.
  We can learn that a comprehensive system of 
care for drug users takes a lot of co-operation 
among the various branches of government, 
including the police. Police in Switzerland and 
Frankfurt, Germany, supported harm reduction 
programs because they increased public safety and 
public order, and the programs enabled the police 
to concentrate on the organized crime aspects of 
the international drug trade. Business people 
supported harm reduction programs because they 
created a healthier climate for the tourist trade, 
and drug users supported the pro-grams because 
they treated them with respect, gave people a 
chance to stabilize their situations, and saved 
 In his report, Donald suggests that the City of 
Vancouver consider an intergovernmental task 
force similar to the one set up in Frankfurt, and he 
reminds us that the overall objective of our drug 
control programs must be to reduce the harm 
caused by the misuse of drugs (legal or illegal) for 
all citizens - our children, families, friends and 
 Donald MacPherson’s report is required reading 
for anyone interested in an intelligent, practical 
approach to the problem of drug misuse. The 
Carnegie Reading Room has copies (ask at the 
desk), and copies are available from the Social 
Planning Department, City of Vancouver.

                       Sandy Cameron

Anthony James Dawson

 There are no words to describe the loss of a child 
who leaves this world suddenly. One day you are 
comfortable in knowing you have a son and you 
are not alone in this world. The next, you must 
watch your child die. The soul wrenching pain is 
so hard, that at times you cannot even move. To 
have this compounded by discovering what our 
son endured while being “assisted” into an 
ambulance is something that no family should 
have to endure. These types of actions should not 
happen to any person, especially in this country.
  The family asks all people who were at the scene 
of Oak Bay and Bank Street (Victoria) on August 
11, 1999 to PLEASE call Scott Hall, Lawyer at 
Thank you very much

Those who think they know it all have no way of finding out they don't.
Joe Paul

We are confined in our understanding of other human beings by what we know about ourselves
Joe Paul

Leah Stone
1960 - 1999

  You were sunny, funny,
so special, so beautiful and
amazing. We will always love you.
  We'll miss your music, laughter,
spontaneity, cleverness and generosity.


One day around 4pm I sat outside of Carnegie 
Centre, watching the actions of many people. At 
first all I could see was addictions and drug 
dealers. I started jotting down some information - 
who are these people swarming the community 
centre like bees to honey?
  I saw only people with addictions, then looked 
over to the bus stop. I noticed people with suits 
and others well-dressed, like they were getting 
off work - you know, the 9-5 people.
  I thought of addicts as people with 9-5 jobs too, 
people who could be nurses, building managers or 
working with money in a bank…I thought of 
addicts and dealers who have to know the cost of 
their product and markets. I thought of users 
having to know which veins are good and 
quantity/quality of dose.
  It was amazing to see my thoughts turn into 
something totally different.
  THOSE people, as some call them, can be
someone one day.
                         Margaret P.

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