Residents Solutions to Downtown Eastside

Published Oct 24, Jean Swanson, Vancouver Sun Blog. Edited for the NL by wp:

Last month I wrote about our mapping process. The DTES, it turns out, has lots of good qualities like acceptance, empathy, 5000 units of good social housing, needed and appreciated services, and a sense of community that other neighbourhoods would die for. Michael Geller responded, basically saying, yes but what do residents say about the public perception of the area as “four blocks of hell”; what should be done with drug dealers and to increase safety, other than to build more housing.

Last Monday CCAP assembled about 30 low income DTES community leaders and asked them what they thought the bad things about the DTES were and how they would address them. What was interesting to me is that Geller’s perceptions of the bad things about the DTES were not the same as the 30 people at our workshop. According to these residents, who live in SROs, social housing, co-op housing, and on the street, the two worst things in the DTES were entrification/condos and police brutality—two things that the average person who motors through the area on the way to work probably wouldn’t even think of.

To deal with the gentrification issue, they suggested that we “lobby like crazy,” and get the city to agree that condos couldn’t be allowed unless affordable housing was built. Maybe then developers would add their voice to the need for social housing in the

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DTES. They also wanted to create a community story to educate developers and buyers and to have community solidarity to push all levels of government to provide more social housing.

To deal with police brutality our community leaders suggested that mandatory police training should include how to keep peace, empathy, and a shift to valuing life rather than property. They wanted Native peacekeepers on the streets. And they suggested that DTES residents could train the police about the community. One person said police should be given a list of people who are severely addicted and mentally ill and told DO NOT ARREST because they will be further traumatized by choke holds and jail.

Media and photographers were also listed as bad things about the neighbourhood. Folks at the workshop thought the public perception (that Geller referred to) was driven by the media who unfairly portray all the bad things about the area, and not the ways people are struggling for changes that will improve the community. One person suggested, bitterly, “We could be the media and show up at their houses and film their kids.” Others said residents could lead more DTES tours, strike a committee to react to misinformation, write letters to the editor, and educate people on the street about their rights to privacy.

As for drug dealers and users, people phrased that category of bad things as “forcing drug users outside.” It was a priority for 3 people. Their suggestions included open more Insites and smoke rooms; more harm reduction which they said was education to care for yourself, better supplies to stop spreading disease, ending poverty and homelessness which makes people vulnerable, getting rid of the black market for drugs and opening up culturally appropriate centers where people can practice their traditional cultures and values.

Another bad thing about the neighbourhood that people mentioned more than drug issues was security guards who force homeless people to move and harass shoppers and pedestrians in Gastown and Tinseltown stores. There was anger about the Business Improvement Associations when they lobby against desperately needed new housing and hire the security guards. Systemic poverty, racism and harassment and non-resident drinkers who spill out of bars and hassle and abuse residents were also on the list of bad things, with some suggestions for how to deal with them.

CCAP will be making a full report on our consultation process soon. Check back to read it here.