Community Vision tackles Downtown Eastside stereotypes and gentrification

For Immediate Release: July 20, 2010

The low-income community in the Downtown Eastside has a right to exist and seek improvements for itself.

That’s the main point of a new Vision for the Downtown Eastside called Assets to Action, Community Vision for Change in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The Vision was developed over two years with input from a massive sample of 1200 Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents, in co-operation with many DTES groups. The process, led by the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP), included Visioning workshops with about 300 people, a questionnaire with 655 people, mapping workshops with 200 people, three days of work with 44 low-income community leaders drawing out the Vision, Values and Actions from the previous work, distribution of the draft report to numerous DTES residents and groups for feedback, incorporation of the feedback into the final document, and three published interim reports. CCAP proposes that the Vision be the foundation and guide for future development in the DTES.

“Our Vision starts from the fact that there are lots of good things about our community,” said CCAP organizer and report co-author, Wendy Pedersen. “Our community assets include a sense of community and belonging, life saving social and health services, many chances to volunteer and contribute, a lack of judgment, and connection to the cultural heritage of the neighbourhood. The wider society stigmatizes many DTES residents because of race, gender, sexual orientation, addiction, mental or physical health and poverty. But in the DTES people who experience discrimination are the majority. They are not marginal. They feel accepted and don’t always have to defend their situation to others.”

“With this Vision low-income residents are saying they want to have more control over their own community,” said Phoenix Winter, one of the participants, and a board member of the Carnegie Community Centre Association. “We don’t want others coming here and telling us what’s wrong with us and what we need. We have good ideas about solving problems ourselves.”

Actions needed to implement the Community Vision include more social housing, reducing poverty, slowing gentrification until low-income residents have decent housing and low-income community assets are secure. The Vision also calls for treatment on demand for people with addictions, more harm reduction services and replacing the current illegal drug market with a regulated legal market based on public health and human rights principles. See page 8 and 9 for a full list of Actions. “While government is needed to get some of these changes,” said Pedersen, “residents are already working on others like a DTES street market and expanding wireless internet to the whole DTES.”

“Slowing gentrification is crucial to implement this report,” said Pedersen. “Low income people are being pushed out by property value increases. Only 12% of privately owned SRO hotel rooms are now renting for the welfare shelter allowance or less. That’s why we are calling on the Mayor and Council to do three important things for DTES residents: 1) Purchase five lots a year for social housing in the DTES for the next ten years; 2) Use its zoning and planning tools to slow gentrification until existing residents and homeless people have decent self-contained social housing, and our community assets are secure; 3) And use this Vision as the basis of a DTES strategy for change.” said Pedersen.

To see CCAP’s Vision report, go to http://carnegie-ccap.com/assetstoaction.pdf

What others have said about CCAP’s Vision report:

“I believe “Assets to Action” is a magnificent document. We have never seen such a comprehensive description of the values, vision and recommended actions of the low-income community for the future of the DTES. Working independently of government, that community, which forms the majority of residents of the area, has been able to create an easy-to-read, yet comprehensive and detailed plan to guide the future development of the DTES. The community values set out in the document provide a guide to the way we should be planning for the future everywhere….    This is a major contribution to the future of the DTES and our city and warrants high priority as a guide to all actions taken by all levels of governments, agencies, developers and others when contemplating change in the DTES.
–Ray Spaxman, former Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver

“Cities and neighbourhoods often present us with a paradox: traveling through them, almost anyone can see so much of what’s in plain sight — and yet the most important things, like the decisions that shaped the place and the experiences of the people who live there, are impossible to ‘see’ in just a short glance. If you want to see the Downtown Eastside through the eyes of the people who truly understand and live it, read ‘Community Vision for Change in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.’
It’s an extraordinary clear view of the neighbourhood’s strengths and challenges, a valuable, eloquent, and powerful testimony to the values and principles of true community.”
–Elvin Wylie, DTES condo owner and Associate Professor of Geography and Chair of the Urban Studies Program at UBC

“Congratulations on this excellent report.  It is well thought out and presented so clearly in a readable language.  Your leadership has galvanized an amazing team effort.
–Colleen Miller, Gastown business owner

I think the report is beautiful and wholeheartedly support it!!!!
–Teresa Vandertuin, Strathcona resident

Just finished reading the Vision for Change and of course, PACE Society unconditionally endorses it.
–Kerry Porth, Executive Director of PACE

John and I have looked over it and we think it looks great. We’d love to endorse on behalf of Pivot Legal Society.
–Doug King, Pivot Legal Society