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Wish upon a czar for the Downtown Eastside

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Any hopes the Games would spur civic leaders to finally address the systemic problems of the anguished DTES have all but vanished ...Read the full article

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  1. maggie's farmboy from Canada writes: Clearly it was a mistake to award Vancouver these games. From the point of view of the people suffering in the downtown east side, it would have been preferable for Vancouver not to lose focus on the issue. Or worse, have future money, which could be used for treatment facilities, tied up in an Athletes Village development.

    Now we will have to suffer the indignity of having the world's press corp pumping out story after story on the problem for two weeks.
  2. Bob Loblaw from Bahamas writes:
    It would be interesting to have an article written showing the historical context of the DTES. That area was, up until the late 60's, a vibrant area with many 'butchers and bakers and candlestick makers'.

    The demise of the DTES followed very quickly the mass exodus of businesses that followed the creation of the Pacific Centre Mall mere blocks away.

    The DTES was formerly called Skid Row and was home to a vast number of pubs which catered to the drug of choice at the time, alcohol. To partake of this drug of choice you had to remain inside and pay a premium for the product. With the introduction of cheap drugs which could be consumed anywhere the problem previously out of sight became glaringly noticeable. The problem was no longer 'out of sight, out of mind'

    ..
  3. A Canadian in Paris France from Paris, France writes: A good article from Gary Mason, but again, it stops short of actually 'calling out' social services agencies and groups by name that must be removed from the area (perhaps over time). A neighbourhood Czar will need incredibly sweeping powers to order the removal of 'enabling' entities - including the power to de-register charities, de-list societies, re-move free services in favour of actual business models.
    DERA are you listening?
  4. aldyen donnelly from Vancouver, Canada writes: Bob Loblaw...good points, but you could have gone back farther in history. The Hendry family built the Hastings Mill in the late 19th century. The family-owned and run forest company town was located immediately east of what is now know as the Downtown Eastside. The family company owned all of the homes and service businesses in Hastings Mill Town, to meet all of the needs of the mill workers. (The old Hastings Mill general store has been maintained for viewing as an historical monument, but has been moved to a small park on the westside.) Hastings Mill Town was an amazing place. The mill was the first venture in Canada to offer jobs, housing and pay wages to then-called 'native Indians' and Canadians of Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Pakistani descent on a basis equal to Canadians of European descent. The first Chinese Canadian to be elected to public office in all of Canada grew up in this community. But Hastings Mill town, by company edict, was a 'dry town' and also 'moral'. This created an opportunity that the market exploited, with the creation of 'Gastown' just outside the west boundary of Hastings Mill Town. The original Gastown was nothing more than a collection of bars, bordellos and flop houses, providing all of the 'immoral' services that were not permitted within the boundaries of Hastings Mill Town. In other words, Vancouver's downtown eastside is, today, the modern version of what it was orignally created to be--the place people from other places go to do the things that are not socially acceptable in the places they come from. One of the reasons that it is so hard to change this neighbourhood is because its roots are so deep.
  5. lary waldman from Qualicum Beach, Canada writes:

    Complex doesn't begin to articulate the problems in the DTES. Unique on to itself, there has been created a culture of poverty groups, whose constituents live in and recreate in what can only be described by most Vancouver residents as a disgraceful outcome. The Olympics, or the cruise ships, should have nothing to do with this, because solving the problems here are no different then solving problems anywhere, you must take them one person at a time, and not give up until they can be mentors themselves or they are dead. The people advocating for the homeless, the downtrodden, the less fortunate, have created for themselves an industry, not unlike the First Nation Lawyer Industry, where fixing the problem kills the goose that lays the golden egg. I know people will be furious if they read this, but the advocates are often more predatory then the low level drug dealers, encouraging their customers. Would a CZAR like person be able to manage such a momentous task, the answer clearly is yes, with the support of the three levels of government, given absolute authority to solve problems as they see fit, and a budget that does not require some granola eating, feeding off the tit, bureaucrat living in Kitsilano needs to approve. Mason is right, pretty it won't be, and there will be death, and there will be destruction, before things get better down there. If you think it can be done, with Liberal,Simon Fraser University thinking, then you are a fool.

    Lary Waldman
  6. p.j. floyd from Jaffray B.C., Canada writes: It's easy to stand on the outside and identify what needs to happen. It's also arrogant and doomed to failure.
    And, having wrought this change from ghetto to mixed community, where will the displaced go? Kits? You'll have to figure out a solution to the NIMBY syndrome before you start.
    The most basic, essential need is to legalize, regulate, tax heavily and control the sale of the drugs that perpetuate the agony. Then legalize and regulate and tax brothels. Take prostitution off the streets.
    Then perhaps the residents of the area would be able to identify their own needs and work to meet them.
  7. Rt. Revd. Malachy Egan from Halifax, Canada writes: I worked in programs in the DTES during the nineties. The only Czars were the drug lords; nobody cared except a few and the few admitted that nothing could be done. That situation is extant today; perhaps given the financial situation it is much worse.

    Ironically, those who want to see what Canada will look like after the failure of the USD and other fiat currencies can visit Waistings and Pain in the DTES of Vancouver today! The powers that be a worried about 2010... If the powers that be do not wake-up soon, there will be nothing much left to worry about.

    It is a tragedy, but of smaller proportions than the African subcontinent!
  8. doug burt from writes: people can go on and on all they want about homelessness, 'street people' ....the problem is simple, i worked in a psych hospital for many years here in Ontario...the governments, federal, provincial (B.C. is no different), pulled funding for programs, closed hospitals and basically got out of the mental health field....on top of that you had 'individuals' whose intentions were admirable but there understanding minimal, giving 'in crisis' patients rights, rights to refuse treatment, sign themselves out etc....now the 70% of street people are ex psychiatric patients which the governments have washed their hands of...as the cost of supplying these outreach programs, or services on Hastings street for instance are in the millions and seem like a large amount of money, it pales in comparison to running and maintaining psychiatric facilities....it's a failed policy, and one that will not be reversed, community based mental health services are a necessity but anyone that thinks they are the be-all and end-all are delusional themselves....go down Yonge street in Toronto, or downtown Victoria, or Hastings, the results of these policies stare us straight in the face...
  9. robert harris from Canada writes: It might be the only good thing to come out of the olympics - the focus and media attention that needs to be shined on the DTES. Despite all the money spent the area deteriorates and new ideas are needed - not necessarily more money. The media attention of the world should shame us all (including our politicians) for letting this tragedy continue.
  10. Candice Bond from Toronto, Canada writes: What too many of the more organized 'poverty industry' types have lost sight of is that it is neighbours, friends and local businesses who are picking up their slack, every time they are protesting, lobbying, or just plain wasting their manpower on 'media awareness'.

    It is the local restaurant owners, giving out the odd free lunch, because they know that a person might spend days without food otherwise, or small businesses who find casual employment for people who would otherwise pan-handle out front. It's the cafe staff who help a guy remember when to take his meds. It's the concerned neighbour who checks in on her elderly neighbour. It's friends who trade babysitting duties because neither can afford daycare. These are the people who, for no personal gain, are providing too many of our social services every day.

    Don't get me wrong, some of the organizations really manage to max-out their time and budgets (Food banks come to mind), but too many simply seem bloated and wasteful.
  11. eric kendall from Vancouver, Canada writes: Thank goodness that a journalist has, at last, said what needed to be said and went against the zeitgeist in declaring that the poverty industry is a substantial part of the problem. Time and again reformed junkies tell how they needed to get away from all the concentrated bad influences in order to straighten themselves out. The poverty pimps say they should stay put, and that we should just throw more money into the whole abyss.

    The fact that the judiciary will not incarcerate multiple and repeat offenders for thefts or drug dealing renders the police efforts futile. The police actually try and help and I've seen them handing out packages of food from a fully stocked police vehicle. The police roll their eyes in disbelief too at the freaky depravity that roils around the whole area.

    The US in not going to allow legalisation of dope and they are our neighbour and best client, we are obliged to show some respect. The mentally unstable and those that have fallen on hard times are deprived of many services because the happy junkies, traveling dope fiends, hookers and thieves suck up so many of the social services.

    We should comprehensively help those that really need help but we should not entertain the casual thief nor those that are just hanging out getting high.
  12. Prairie Dog from Vancouver, Canada writes: Nuke the place.
  13. Amanda R from Vancouver, Canada writes: Yes, the government has spent a lot of money and not actually addressed this issue, but to blame the poverty advocates is a bit wrong headed. In organizing a forum to address women's homelessness last fall, I spoke to many DTES advocates. The problem that they often identified was that politicians were not willing to invest the large amounts of money necessary to create long-term solutions (like more supportive housing). What the politicians didn't recognize, and what the G and M has pointed out, is that homelessness IS costly. The B.C. Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services estimated that homelessness costs $40,000 per year in service and shelter costs. The costs of supportive housing ranged to $28,000 per year but governments are less likely to budget the money for supportive housing, then they are to pay for the indirect costs of homelessness (i.e. court, law inforcement, medical). So, poverty advocates have a very difficult time getting politicians to agree to fund long term solutions instead of just bandaid solutions. Yes, more supportive housing is needed outside of the DTES, but any attempts to create it has lead to the revolt of neighbourhood groups. A rumoured supportive housing project at Dunbar and 16th, spawned NIABY: Not In Anyone's Backyard, a community group that fiercely resisted the move. What the advocates are fighting against is development that is encroaching on the DTES, displacing people for whom there is nowhere else but the street to go. If there were political support and compelling options outside of the DTES in other Vancouver neighbourhoods that had supportive housing, this would not be so much of an issue, but given the resistance, the only place is the DTES. Let's not close down the DTES, like we closed down Riverview, in favour of 'community programs' that do not exist. I think blaming the 'poverty industry' is counterproductive. I don't know anyone who has gotten rich working in the DTES.
  14. Amanda R from Vancouver, Canada writes: The other issue that poverty advocates also try to address, is the need for longer and more effective addiction treatment programs. The current norm for treating addicts is to have them check into detoxification clinics for a couple of weeks and then month long treatment programs, before sending them right back out into the DTES. What needs to happen is the creation of more 'recovery houses' where addicts can be given time to recover in a supportive environment. Those that allow addicts to stay and rebuild their lives there for up to a year, such as The Last Door in New Westminster, actually report up to a 90% success rate for clients who complete their program being clean a year later. Although such solutions 'seem' costly, because they are direct costs, they save the government on many of the indirect costs of homelessness, thus creating an overall cost savings and ACTUALLY helping individuals. Politicians need to start realizing that seemingly costly solutions are actually cost effective. They need to invest money in effective mental health and addiction services without feeling that they are throwing money away (because they ARE not - they are actually saving money spent indirectly elsewhere). They must understand that helping someone all the way through their recovery or providing mental health services is an important part of effective governance and is actually fiscally conservative. There should be someone who works to streamline the services and the strategy for the DTES, but that person's main job is not just going to be to overcome the ingrained philosophies of the so-called poverty industry, it will also be to make politicians and residents of other communities realize that they to must play a part and that in order to get a result, they must invest time and capital into that result. What currently happens is that the DTES is a mishmash of bandaid solutions. But as we can see, bandaids are costly. Let's stop using bandaids and actually heal
  15. Geoffrey May from Canada writes: What's needed is a visionary with courage ,that's what we need from coast to coast , but with the media and financial power structure in place, we ensure that courageous visionaries never get near the reins of power . Our systems rewards gutless liars and hacks, conmen who appeal to our lowest nature, a continually downward spiralling status quo of positive feedback loops with negative consequences .We can get rid of drug dealers easily , legalize the drugs.We can end drug crime easily , give drugs away for free , but no level of government would ever have the courage end the war on druggies that fuels organized crime.
  16. dennis baker from penticton, Canada writes: Asking the Police Cheif to solve the problem is much like asking the CEO of Shell to solve climate change.

    the bi-annual harvest of bodies to fill the courts schedual and keep everyone employeed abd jails full is the priority.
    everything else is window dressing.

    dennis baker
  17. Albert de Goias from Toronto, Canada writes: I am quite dismayed by the comments and suggestions of the readers. Yes, there is certainly a problem in downtown Vancouver. But is it as terrible as the comments seem to suggest? I have taken the opportunity while visiting Vancouver this week to have a tour of Insite, the clean needle site, to talk with the workers and with some of the clients, and I have also walked around the area. i am from Toronto. I felt safe there. I would never feel safe in Regent Park. Yes, the problem is more obvious because, in Vancouver, the users are heroin addicts. They project a sick and dirty look, but they are weak and interested only in getting their fix. in other cities, especially where crack is prevalent, they are dangerous as they are desperate not to come down. Yes, i felt sorry for the people. But I was veryimpressed by the workers and even the police who have learned that, to punish a person simply for seeking the only friend they have, can be unfair. instead, they talk to them and help them get to a safer place. We will always have the poor and the sick. Drug addicts do not become addicted because they are bad or sick. They use it to get the only solace they know or can afford. then they get hooked because the servant quickly becomes the cruel master. I used to be an opponent of harm reduction, a method of helping the addict prevent illness while they do what they have fallen into needing to do. I saw the need for it in Vancouver. I went to Hastings and Main on two consecutive days to observe. All I could feel was symathy, not disgust. And, by the way, Hastings and Main is nowhere near the busy areas where visitors are likely to visit.

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