For the Love of Our Community

By Tracey Morrison
Originally published in the Downtown East newspaper April 2013

I’m from Morson, Ontario, near Minnesota close to the Manitoba border. I’m from the Ojibway Nation from Big Grassy reserve. I’m adopted. My uncle and aunt adopted me and my siblings– six of us from the same biological parents. My real dad and my adopted dad are brothers. And my adopted mom is Caucasian. I grew up as Mennonite.

We lived in a middle class home. We didn’t starve. Pretty much got what we needed, not what we wanted. We had 3 cars in our driveway. Big house. Lovely home. Just strict. I learned a lot of things as a child—canning goods, getting meat from wild life, making bread, everything was homemade. That’s what I love about remembering my home life is that we learned all that stuff.

Me being an alcoholic and drug user really didn’t come from home cause I had it good as I grew up. I came to the DTES in 1997.

Then I heard that VANDU gave $3 to sit and listen to what they were talking about. So I went to VANDU cause I really needed that $3. That got me coming to all the meetings they held. The women’s group on Saturday got me into more of what was going on in the community. I didn’t care about the community before that, just where I was going to get my next beer. Then I got on the WAHRS (Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society) board and was elected as the vice president—as a leader and that kinda scared me cause all my life I thought I could only amount to being a follower, nothing more. WAHRS led me to the Local Area Planning Process. That was like putting a heavy book of dictionaries on my head. Holy crap, all the words. It was like the first day of going to college. I don’t think of myself as a book smart person, more a street smart person. Being on the LAPP changed that, and working with all these wonderful people in the community. I strive to be a better person because of all the people I’ve met at the LAPP and everyday people. I don’t do this stuff just to get fame and there is no fortune. It’s about improving myself and my community for the people I meet on the street in the DTES.

The WAHRS board meets on Wednesday and the members meeting is on Friday. I work with VANDU at the Oppenheimer washrooms 2 days a week . I’m the RPIC, which stands for responsible person in charge. Four people work a shift there so the bathrooms can stay open when the park closes on Sundays and Mondays.

VANDU does a lot of community development projects. That’s the phrase I just learned. One of them was the pedestrian safety project. I didn’t do a big part in that but it made me feel so proud that VANDU did it, an organization that people in Vancouver don’t like, cause it’s a group of drug users. So doing this, implementing the 30 KM speed limit in the core of the DTES and the countdown signs for pedestrians took a lot of time: counting cars, putting up our own signs. It was awesome. VANDU is the organization down here that does a lot of action. Not so much talking. The toilet project is where we went into the alleys and counted poo and counted people who went in the washrooms. It was an amazing job. I sat at this washroom (near Carnegie). It was freezing. I’m glad we did it. We got the hours extended. At Oppenheimer I make sure my staff have their stuff. If they don’t have their gloves, I get them. If they are hungry, I get food. If they are cold, I get jackets. Someone donated 2 nice chairs cause ours were falling apart. Community members come together and do this stuff. They appreciate that we open the Oppenheimer toilets so they give.

My hopes are that developers don’t crush us and that we fight strong and push them out. I think issues like social housing and raising the welfare rates are the main ones that we need to concentrate on. I think it would solve the problem of homelessness. I live in an SRO in the Oppenheimer District, a tiny room where the window doesn’t shut. The landlord only periodically turns up the heat so I’m always sick. I have no bed. My place is infested with mice and cockroaches which makes me stay at my boyfriend’s place. I’m a diabetic on insulin and have bad arthritis. I need my own self contained unit and I think everyone should be entitled to that.

I will always fight for social housing and raising the rates. That’s my future here in the DTES. It’s to make it a better and stronger community. I think it’s already a strong community and a great one but I want to make it a better one and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.