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Your Fix

What should be done to fix the Downtown Eastside? Where would you start? How would you fix Canada's slum? Share your ideas through our comment function and we'll post some of the better proposals on the site.

Globe and Mail Update

Robert Friedland from Richmond writes: We've spent $1.5 billion for virtually no improvement. For that kind of money, we could have sent all of the few thousand addicts and mentally ill eastside residents to the Mayo Clinic, the Betty Ford Clinic, and the Karl Menninger Clinic for a year. They would have been off the street and in rehabilitation and care by trained and experienced professionals.

Normand LaBine from Winnipeg writes: First of all, keep the NGO's out of there, except in a human support network. The more control they have in these projects, the bigger they grow, like a fungus. Second, the folks that are there, likely have criminal charges. They'll never get a passport, doubtful that they'll ever get a decent job, etc. They lost HOPE. It's a dead-end life. No future. They know it better than we can analyze or conceive. What's needed is an opportunity to work in their own forms of enterprise or artisanry or fabrication. Vancouver's blessing and curse is its fine weather. My suggestions can be reproduced across the country's cities, helping broken folks to recover their hope, rebuild their self-assurance and re-enter the larger society as contributors. We have done this in various forms across Canada, from converting stolen, unclaimed bicycles into grocery delivery and racing bikes, to rebuilding furniture. We've got lots of experienced seniors with decades of skills, parked at home, but wanting or needing a flexible workday to keep active. And just here in one neighbourhood in Winnipeg, we have 6 provincially and municipally funded NGOs fighting for their territorial control and delivering absolutely nothing in benefits to their charges, except hiring one or two more every year to keep fighting each other off. Admittedly, Winnipeg has never recovered from either the Great Depression or the 1980's Recession, which is why we've had our population swing up to 711,000 in 1999, down to 684,000 in 2006, with the odd blip to 689,000. But we've never seen a constant growth curve. Not surprising since we've got all these NGOs with no ideas to become self-effacing. Small industry, small commerce, small fabricators or assembly centres in exchange for a decent income and housing. Asians know how to shift their production plans from candies to flags or cheap watches to candles to packaging services. Only turn the power triangle upside down. Grassroots telling the PTB.

John Hopeful from Canada writes: It seems to me that all of the good intentions that are suggested and many of them have rational proposals, are doomed to failure. If anyone has had any experience dealing with addicts they know that their viewpoint has little to do with developing their lives and everything to do with feeding their addiction. 'Enabling' does not break the cycle. When people talk about community and support networks in the Downtown Eastside they are talking about a structure that supports the destructive lifestyle and creates a quagmire that makes it almost impossible for the addicted to get out. The community, I think, is the problem. The community is an enabler. I think that the answer is to allow the existing Downtown Eastside to disappear. Develop the Downtown Eastside, provide options like the Woodwards development and provide facilities in other communities to provide housing and treatment. Then create a focal point for Homelessness' on a national level, appoint someone in the federal and provincial government to oversee and direct funds to communities across the country so that the resources are there to treat the problems but the enabling community is gone. The solution lies in rebuilding the DES and making it part of the rest of Vancouver rather than supporting the destructive community that draws in and traps the addicted.

Bill D from Victoria writes: A lot of yapping here about leadership failure. Look, every mayor Vancouver's had has tried to solve the East Van problem. Perhaps it's time for leadership and strength of a firm and different sort. First, stop pouring money into that cesspool. Give it not one more cent or any beggar or supplicant in it. Second, declare war on the gangs. Use the police lists. No search warrants necessary, surrenders conditionally accepted, but wipe them out. Third, level the area and start afresh. Institutionalize the mentally ill, drive off the addicts, and let the able and lazy fend for themselves. For generations the East Van problem has been an ulcer on the side of a great city. It has defied all the bleeding heart nostrums to fix it. Public money just evaporates there. It's long past time to burn it to the ground.

Common Cents for Dollars from Vancouver writes: You can start with just cleaning up the streets. 25 city blocks can be kept broom clean with 20 people. At $35,000 per year, that budget is $700,000 a small fraction of the money wasted. Clean things up and you automatically start addressing problems. Eliminate graffiti on walls, call hospital services when the cleaners find someone incapacitated due to drugs, get people into the system. Also important, the Vancouver police have to absolutely back & protect the cleaners. Any threat against a cleaner is reported and acted upon harshly. After a few months of active cleaning, hosing down alleyways, fixing light fixtures, cleaning windows, picking up trash, the area will start to look good again. A starting base for social services to work. Then you put some strategic cameras at intersections so the police can continue to put pressure on gang related activity.

Joyce Hum from Ottawa writes: In Ottawa I have witnessed many issues found in Vancouver's East Side. Below are ideas that I believe would make a difference. Idea Assumptions: • That each person has great value and be respected • That we should help those who need it the most • Care for the whole person: physically, emotionally and spiritually. Establish Safe Houses: • small apartments or rooms without cost. • Each building would have staff and volunteers. • Dining services without cost. • They would have basic rules of use but not being addicted or a prostitute would not be one of them. • Have intake interview where the services, methadone treatment, addiction treatment, individual counseling, would be offered. • These would be offered on a continual basis. • Each person have an assigned care person (this could be a recovery person). • A place where emotional trauma can be discussed at any time. • Faith counsellors and faith services be available. • Oportunities for gym, swimming, walking, jogging. • Social events. • Educational opportunities, and job training. • Employment and/or volunteer work opportunities . • Once employment is obtained a fee could be charged. • Have male and female houses. Do not mix genders. • Measurement criteria should be agreed to and statistics collected in order to have a meaningful evaluation on the effectiveness of the program. As a country our progress can be measured by how we care for those with the greatest needs. The longer we leave people who are destitute and without care make a mockery out of each of our lives. We can do better. We could start in Vancouver with three houses. These could be evaluated and refinements made. This need is not only in Vancouver; we could learn form it and move it to other provinces.

Curmudgeon 99 from Surrey writes: Recognize and treat addiction as a disease and you don't have to legalize anything. Addiction is a disease. Virtually all the drugs these people are addicted to are already legal if prescribed as warranted for the treatment of medical condition. Withdrawal is painful condition but a controlled daily dosage a prescribed medication can restore an individuals ability to start each day with a trip to the pharmacy for their drug of choice, in a fashion similar to methadone now. They can then get on with the business of dealing with a day with no fear of withdrawal. Probably $2 per day for a maintenance shot of confiscated heroin will replace the desperate necessity of supplying a couple of hundred bucks from a dealer. Common bloody sense...

Mike Hodge from Chilliwack writes: The Gang Wars and the War on Drugs are out of control and they are costing the Canadian taxpayers and the health system billions of dollars every year and there is no end in sight to the human death, suffering and collateral damage along the present course. History is repeating itself. In the 1920's and 1930's the United States had the alcohol prohibition and as a result violent criminal alcohol smuggling gangs formed to smuggle and sell illegal alcohol. To try and stop the criminal alcohol smuggling gangs the government declared a War on Alcohol. How many years did the War on Alcohol last, ten, fifteen, twenty, and what happened during all those years: thousands of people, criminals and innocence's alike, were killed, injured, and locked up in prisons. Cities were in crisis over gang turf territory wars. The violent criminal alcohol smuggling gangs were gunning each other down and killing each other and innocent victims in broad daylight. The police and the criminals alike were patrolling the streets carrying and using high powered automatic weapons. The prisons were overflowing with over crowding. Illegal alcohol addiction was rampant. The police spent their time chasing down drunks and were helpless to prevent the gang crime activity because the public did not believe the police could or would protect them from the criminal alcohol smuggling gang revenge. Before the United States called a cease fire on the War on Alcohol, the government had spent millions of dollars and the criminal gangs made millions of dollars. After the government called a cease fire on the War on Alcohol, the organized criminal alcohol smuggling gangs disbanded, the violence, the turf wars and the killings stopped, and the prisons emptied of the non dangerous offenders. If one were to do the math, one would discover if a cease fire on the War on Drugs were to happen, the money saved by the cease fire would easily pay for the War in Afghanistan and Health Care.

Lee C from Vancouver writes: If people can no longer function in the most basic sense of the word due to drug addition or a mental disorder and therefore costs their life and a deterioration of society — with costs mounting, the basic question is, does a government have the right to intervene. If so, the largest problem is solved and it would open the door to the following: 1. Facilities where people could go during the day. 2. A temporary home. 3. Large treatment centres for the drug addicted and for the mentally ill. 4. Rehabilitation centres as the next step where they would remain indefinitely. 5. Then to a Half-way house where they are monitored — not how it was previously done — they just ended up lost on the street again or, treatment centres that were places of abuse. 6. Next, integrate them back into society by placing them in high rises or apartments with all levels of society. No separate buildings for them — it stigmatizes that population and therefore never changes that mindset of being less then others. The incentive to improve their lives is stifled. 7. They have a buddy they can talk to when out on their own.

Emilie F from Winnipeg writes: I have lived in Vancouver in the early 70's. Eastside still had a sense of community although it was changing and 'being taken over'. Now that it has been taken over and the gaping wounds will be open for the world to see next year there is anxiety about a quick fix. This is not possible. The solution goes back to the one from the ages. The residents, and yes I do mean the people who live there, need to organize and re-direct their environment. They need to have a focus, become a community and establish a local governing body to relate to the rich, critical outsiders who wish to plunder and take away. This is of course prime land and a beautiful location: the low life don't deserve to live there! Send in a group with the thinking of the former Company of Young Canadians. Set up a hospital. Organize internet cafes on every corner with free use. Have the local people use the internet to watch out for each other and communicate. Bring in families with children and ask the local community to design a safe community for them. Have a plant and garden program, reorganize through the internet. Have an arts focus: Sunday is for artists and artisans to sell. NO TAX TO THE CITY on things sold Sundays. You get the drift. Create don't destroy! The community of settlers will eventually get the picture.

Mike from Vancouver writes: End the phony war on drugs and all the misery caused by artificially high prices, poisoned supply chains and gang violence will disappear as if by magic. Most of the people lurching around the DTES looking for their next fix are not going to go through a nice little detox program and become 'normal' members of society. The most compassionate thing we could do is GIVE them the anesthetic of their choice without having to prostitute themselves or steal to support the scumbag dealers who will cut their fix with anything that's convenient. Addiction rates among the general population remain the same as when the phony war on drugs started. It should be obvious to everyone by now that all the 'enforcement' is a sham because the laws of supply and demand hold sway, and their are undoubtedly some very powerful and well-connected people (like the CIA in the U.S.) who profit immensely from the phony war on drugs. The rest of us normal folks are living in a fantasyland where we conveniently ignore this reality and just about every other, including the 'free market' economic house of cards which is now crashing around us, while our politicians thump their chests and pretend that 'stimulus packages' and deficit spending are going to make the lies go away. The DTES is merely a highly visible symptom of the complete failure of the human race to deal with reality.

Lorna LeBlanc from Port Alberni writes: Vancouver Resources Board had the right direction with neighbourhood committees responsible for proposals for practical programs with social services funding. VRB just did not go far enough. The folks on the Eastside certainly have addiction and/or mental health issues or...they are just poor. They are not intellectually inferior. I would argue that the wealthier have just as many addiction/mental health issues but are not as visible. The problem with the traditional methods of funding for services is that most of it go to contracted analysts, managers, supervisors, conferences, meetings, etc. and, in fact very little sifts down to those who actually use the services. This is a problem everywhere and is particularly appalling with the Ministry of Children and Families. I would like to see the neighbourhood resource boards established once more with enhanced access to funding and to decision making. Let the folks on the eastside have a role in developing the solutions that they will live with and ensure that the various agencies, including the Vancouver City Police, take these solutions seriously.

Mone Ofurbus from Canada writes: Unfortunately the fix is not easy or quick, and with only a year till the Olympics, the world will see. In order to address the problem, the first thing that must be done is to change the popular bleeding heart conception that it's our fault and that we owe them a living. Life is all about the results of choices. The slums people made the wrong choices and use alcohol and drugs to shirk reality. Since they are incapable of helping themselves, we'll have to do it for them. Now, in order to do that we must start at the root of the problem which is the need and dependence for drugs and alcohol. You can't properly fix a rotten foundation by painting over it: it must be repaired. The foundational root cause of drug and alcohol abuse is low self worth, a sense of failure, unappreciated, etc. That lack of self worth has to be restored by building it up, throwing money at safe injection sites, free housing and groceries only serve to amplify the problem. So, how then do we build up one's self-worth to the point where they can become self-sustaining and reintegrate back into society? Well, the short answer is work. Work busies the hands and mind giving a sense of accomplishment, the key ingredient of self-worth. The tricky part, in where a lot of people will cry 'rights', is getting the addicts to start building themselves up by working, since its unlikely that handing them a hammer, saw or broom will be motivation enough. Sorry, but tough problems need tough measures to make headway, that work has to be legislated and enforced to kick start the rebuilding of self. The hard raw fact is several billion dollars have been spent with little, if any solutions, its high time to get serious. For their own good, they must be housed ,feed and retrained in work camps where there's no drugs or alcohol, in order to get them on the road to recovery. The problem of the eastside is monumental in size, looking at it and scratching our heads is not the solution, better get to it.

Anna Wharton from Mississauga writes: Vancouver is a jewel among Canada's cities yet we've let it become a slum due to lack of policy and leadership. The drugs, vagrancy, prostitution, derelict housing, native people's and poor people's demoralization should be taken into the oversight of a government body which will build: institutions for mental health, drug addition treatment centres, outreach programs and reform the relationship between Canadian government and the native peoples. It is immoral to allow people to lie in the street, shoot up in public, have a police and social net which simply moves them along, and rotting buildings which slowly destroy the neighbourhood. The Downtown Eastside should be confiscated from absentee landlords, rebuilt as a modern architecturally and environmentally friendly community area. We would not leave beached whales on the shore. Why would we allow people to simply destroy themselves without a solution to their misery. That doesn't mean to demonize the people for whom I have great sympathy for their disease and dismay. They are damaged, possibly for life. We ought to be responsible for them. As for the native issue, I propose tough policies. Either native peoples comply to Canadian law, (I'm not an expert - but believe we treat them with too much leniency) and that we stop handouts that enable the rotting of a people's self worth. The area should be considered a Katrina-like disaster and demolished and its residents housed in social institutions until they are on a drug maintenance program or clean up (which of course would mean methadone for life for some) and get counselling.

Mizanur Majumder from Richmond writes: Shelter is the basic need for civilization. Everybody has the right to be fed, clothed, and treated with respect and dignity without being judged for their looks, mistakes, or choices in life. The prediction for the foreseeable future of world economy is gloomy. We may see more homelessness and increase in the crime rate as an affect. Both provincial and federal governments spend in billions for expensive temporary solutions rather than a permanent one. To solve the homelessness issue we have to first understand the issue itself and then look for a permanent solution. It is better to spend millions to deal with the cause of homelessness rather than spending billions in dealing with homelessness and still not solves its issues...

Joel Parkes from Peterborough writes: This is what happens when you let the poverty industry go unchecked for too long. What a shambles. The Vancouver DES is a product of gutless politicians too afraid to act against the short-sighted 'interest' groups who think that facilitating suicidal lifestyles is a noble thing. Compassion sometimes means tough love. Arresting and jailing people who inject themselves with life destroying substances will help more than it hurts. I used to work at Woodward's years ago and now that whole area is a joke. Only in the polarized political environment of B.C. would this fiasco take place.

Name Withheld from Vancouver: K. O'Brien from Kingston: That's a very interesting proposal - to have the Army intervene in the DTES, and have it serve as a 'training ground' for the role of helping to re-build failed states, or caring for urbanites in the event of a natural disaster. Certainly the challenges of feeding, housing and treating the citizens of the DTES could make for interesting lessons, but I also think that the leadership, discipline, character and pride of members of the CAF could be an inspiration to take up a life of purpose (service to our country) and keep young people from falling too deeply into dispair. Of course, there will likely be many who would disagree, particularly politicians who might object to the notion of the DTES as a 'Failed State' and by extension their roles in contributing to its failures. The CAF already have large properties near the DTES, and can (and I think do?) serve as emergency shelters already.

Teresa Thom from Vancouver writes: Thank you for posting my comment on your article. My previous post was a vent. As far as solutions to the mountain of problems the people in the DTES have to live with. Can anyone who hasn't lived the life really propose solutions? Let's do something new and listen to the men and women who know the problems and the possible solutions.

Art Gopher from Surrey writes: 1. Co-ordinate all 'recovery' efforts through one integrated agency or organization specifically set up for that task. They would be responsible for establishing a long-term vision in consultation with residents, tracking all components of the implementation activities, and measuring the effectiveness of implementation through random surveys and measurements of key lifestyle criteria. 2. Control access in and out of the downtown eastside, census each resident and conduct spot checks that will focus on eliminating hard drugs and firearms.

BART from Vancouver writes: Guy BC from Vernon Canada writes: Since taxpayers are paying to bail out the Olympic village why not convert these condos after the Olympics into low cost or free housing for homeless and addicts... As idyllic as that sounds, it's a bad idea. The Olympic village stands on some of the most expensive land in the city. It was not designed for social housing. It was designed so that people who work hard for a paycheque can come home after a day's work, look out over the city and mountains (the place has a great view) and feel content with their accomplishments. As a resident I do not think it's fair to give, with my tax dollars, first class accommodation for free in location I'd find hard to afford. Having said that, to solve the DTES issues first illegal drugs should be legalized and regulated. Only then will the criminal element be removed, addiction will be seen as just a health issue, and be treated in the communities from which all these people come from. Social housing should be developed on the micro level, in lower density areas throughout BC and Canada thus avoiding the ghetto-ization that becomes a factor with large social housing projects. Once the people of the DTES have health services, no longer fear arrest, and are housed in supportive communities other problems will resolve themselves.

Mega Culpa from Vancouver writes: In trying to help the denizens of the downtown-eastside, we have only contributed to the problem. We support their addictions with welfare and house them in subsidized buildings. We condone their crimes with a revolving door justice system. We enable their dysfunctional behaviour through social agencies and the health care system. We participate in their sickness by providing needles and a shooting gallery. Why should be we surprised that, after providing all this support, the problem continues to grow? We've created a community where successive generations of drug addicts can be recruited. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result. It's time to stop the insanity. Shut down the enabling agencies, cut off the addicts' welfare, enforce the laws and put these people in jail where they belong. We could have a much smaller problem in a few years, if only we were willing to face cold, hard reality.

Derrick G from Canada writes: One of the problems is no mayor has co-ordinated all agencies and held them accountable to measure what they are doing in the Downtown Eastside. There has to be co-ordination, ownership, accountability and measured results between federal, provincial, municipal and NGOs co-ordinated through the mayor's office. It needs to focus on rapid housing, mental health, drug addiction services, and strong courts to force people to detox as well as building a safer liveable city instead of the complete and utter chaos which presently exists. The prolific offenders need to be focused on and work toward breaking their crime cycle. This is done by attacking the addiction issues while in custody and working smarter with criminal justice partners, health, social services agencies and so on. After hearing how the police are 'harassing' the poor by issuing violation tickets for jaywalking and the BC Civil Liberties complaining about their actions is ridiculous. If Pivot and BC Civil Liberties want to help then they need to be part of the solution instead of the problem. This 1.5 billion spending without any co-ordination of services is mind boggling. Please see how the City of Portland, Oregon, is working toward co-ordinated responses to build a better city.

Gordon Currie from Chilliwack writes: Leave the Vancouver Downtown as is because it is a great teaching ground for wise parents and for all people including foreign tourists who have their own Slums in their part of the world. I drove my three children to the downtown at least twice if not more per year and pointed out that the people there where once children like them, the difference being abuse of drugs and alcohol. I said to my children that if they drank too much or started taking drugs there was a good chance they would end up like the people at Hastings and Main and Carol streets and other areas downtown Vancouver. The people living there now are comfortable with there surroundings cause if they were not they would quit on there own accord. They also have no respect for other peoples property and it is unfair to ask any landlord to allow them in a nice clean building cause they will trash the building and upset the decent tenants. My Children are now 24,25,28 all working and drug and alcohol free.

Teresa Thom from Vancouver writes: My husband and I, due to an illegal eviction, were forced to look for an inexpensive place to live in the downtown eastside. We were a few days from living on the streets and all we could afford on our benefits were fleabag hotels. I was terrified. As clients of The Ministry for Social Services, with ongoing mental health problems, we asked them for help. The worker said and I quote 'we aren't allowed to help you, because it wouldn't be fair to the landlords, we don't help them look for tenants' Even Kafka would shake his head. The shelters we looked at were like snakepits with people in various states of illness or desperation milling around. The atmosphere just sucks the life out of you. Shelter staff told us, as a couple we would be sleeping in completely separate areas. The list of people and organizations and governmental bodies we begged help from is endless, I won't name them but I could. Nothing was forthcoming. Except one woman at a one non-profit hotel told us to not let our situation weaken our relationship. We were lucky to find our present apartment, which we can barely afford. But I think of all the dozens and dozens of people in similar situations who are alone and less able to cope. Or just unlucky. Where can they go? Are they the men and women wheeling store carts around the streets? That could have been us. In the end I suppose it's the many people we met while looking for a home that I remember most of all. The downtown residents who suggested ways out of our situation, men and women who took the time to talk to us and share a laugh. Then there were the people who are paid to help who let us down. They had seen it all and to them we were just another file to process or refer to yet another useless government or government funded organization. We were expendable. They made that clear.

Amanda R from Vancouver writes: Politicians have not been willing to invest the large amounts of money necessary to create long-term solutions (like more supportive housing). But homelessness IS costly. The B.C. Ministry of Community 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 enforcement, medical). More supportive housing is needed outside of the DTES in order to get people away from the area, 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. The other issue is the need for longer 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 programs, before sending them right back out into the DTES. We need to create more 'recovery houses' where addicts can have the time to recover and rebuild their lives in a supportive environment. Those that allow addicts to stay and rebuild 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. 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. They must understand that helping someone all through their recovery or providing mental health services is an important part of effective governance and is actually fiscally conservative.

Dianne Porter from Charlottetown writes: Here in Charlottetown we bulldoze some, restore some and designate it a historically significant place.

Eric Tran from Toronto and Victoria writes: I've been working on an Architectural thesis proposal for an integrated health centre in the Downtown Eastside. This facility is aimed to provide a combination of conventional western practices and eastern alternative practices with a key focus on education in between. Education has always been the key to preventing drug use and HIV etc. In this case of overall health, education in my proposal is aimed to prevent poor health. Our overall health has to be looked at holistically. Where conventional practices effectively deal with treating the physical and present condition, alternative practices try to do the same while attempting to prevent the occurrence of illness. I'm still trying to discover how these services can be provided through volunteer organizations and how funding can be established. In addition, I'm also trying to determine how such a service can also act to bring the community together. Traditional medicine in rural Asia is not necessarily viewed as a business. Rather it addresses the integral value of every citizen as a whole to protect the life and health of each individual in the community. Can this model be applied to Vancouver Eastside? The following is one example how an integrated health centre can benefit this region specifically: Highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) has dramatically changed the development of HIV-related therapies in industrialized countries. But where HAART is not available or not economically feasible, patients are very likely to seek complementary and alternative medicine. Without going into too much detail, where HAART therapies have proven to be ineffective, there has been cases shown where herbal medicine, acupuncture and massage, homeopathy, nutritional management, and mind-body therapies have helped patients deal with the symptoms.

Karen Church from Burnaby writes: These people have no dignity. How can we give them dignity? They are cracked out, fixed out and down right disgusting, as anyone knows who has frequented the Downtown Eastside. Legalize it. Take away the criminal element. Give them a chance to prove they are not disgusting. Treat it like you would a disease-like asthma, MS, Alzheimer's ,etc., as opposed to thumbing your nose on those who are just beyond help because of their own choosing. It is very easy to judge from an ivory tower. Take a look in the mirror. This problem has been around longer than the Olympics spoltlight, but the Olympics spotlight has certainly brought the nation's attention front and centre. Too bad no one paid any attention before.

K. O'Brien from Kingston writes: Hand the problem to the Military. Not that you should see guns and tanks in the streets. But the modern Military is trained for dealing with failed nations and similar situations. As part of their 2010 tasks add on that they lay out a plan to fix the East Side problem. When they present their solution all three layers of government should spend 2 days reading the plan and then vote to fund and implement.

Lorna LeBlanc from Port Alberni writes: I spent many years in social services and on East Hastings. I am quite sure that most of the money spent on the Eastside went to management of various agencies . The poor and disadvantaged keep so many directors, analysts, planners, etc. employed. I would like to see the folks on the Eastside empowered: The addicts to work with streetworkers to develop a plan for housing and for addiction services; the youth working on planning with youth workers; small areas to vote for a steering committee made up of the people living in that area. The Vancouver Resources Board (anyone remember that?) had the right idea but did not go far enough ... and then ... of course ... the tulip bulb eater took us over and made us Civil Servants ... serving government and not people .... which is what civil servants are made to do of course. My experience with the people living in the Eastside was that, in every group, there were those with insight, creativity intelligence and ability. Those folks need to be located and encouraged to participate and I am sure the streetworkers know who they are. Mr. I wish you were still here!!!

P.K. Floyd from Jaffray B.C.: As long as we reduce the 'problem' to a geographic area - DTES - it can't be fixed. The people who live there come from Everyplace Canada. As long as we have unenforceable laws prohibiting street drugs there will be a DTES and there will be drug distribution networks in every community in Canada. At the distant end of the network is the recruiter, who stands outside a school in your community looking for the vulnerable kid, offers him or her a free hit, and then another, and then says "find me five more customers and you can have yours free." Pretty soon you've got a drug trade on the school bus. Meanwhile there's an equally brisk trade going on in the local pub, and then there's the grow-op down the street, and the bikers who come through town and recruit the small-time grow-op owner to add crack, meth and ecstasy to their product line. NOTE: the cross-border trade in illegal drugs — BC Bud and Meth going south, crack, ecstasy and hand guns coming north — is larger than our GNP here in B.C. Most of these young people will experiment and go on to other things. A small percentage are vulnerable and will become addicted. Their suppliers will either pimp them out or sell them to some pimp. Often their families will have given up on them — it is hell having an addict in the house — so they are in the child welfare system. Most of the Missing Women came from the child welfare system. Within a block or two of every group home there is a predator targeting these kids. After a year or two in a pimp's 'stable' the kids are too shopworn, so they're thrown away, to the streets. If brothels were legal, there would be no street sex trade, and 12 year olds would be safer. Did you know that the customers like them young? Again, both genders. So: Legalize, regulate and tax street drugs, sell them in government stores. Legalize regulate and tax brothels. Put the profits into health and education and 24/7 childcare.

Quinn Vosburgh from Vancouver: Is it possible that mental health and wellness already exists within those that are suffering? Can we look beyond illness and teach people to see their own innate potential with this fresh look at their mental life. This paradigm shift has communities and prisons in the USA illuminating hope for the well-being of all people. First it must start with those working with the people who are suffering. Is their belief people are broken and need of fixing or whole and only in need of an insight into their innate potential? The Health of helper is critical to the unfolding of this approach, it is the foundation to seeing the health in others. It is impossible to share what you do not have. Without access to our own well being, our work becomes another skill, another idea rather than a sharing that comes from a feeling of well-being and a peaceful state of mind.

Lynn Roodbol from Guelph writes: There was an article in The Globe and Mail some time ago about a building in Toronto which houses a number of recovering addicts. They live as a family, taking care of each other and ejecting anyone who uses drugs, alcohol or violence. They received a daily subsidy and also contribute a minimal amount to their upkeep from money they earn at part time jobs. I think there is someone in charge of the building to look after maintenance issues, but I can't remember how this works. This life style would not work for everyone in the downtown eastside, but it would work for those who want to be more responsible for themselves and who could live in a more social environment. It would also be an example for others on the street to see that it might be possible for them to live in harmony with their peers. I remember being very impressed by the article about the people who live in this arrangement in Toronto. They seemed to be happy and secure in the knowledge that other people in the building care about them and that they are accountable to the group. Most people in the downtown eastside live alone and my impression is that they lack the love of other human beings. I think it would be worth establishing 'family' substitutes such as the one in Toronto. It would be important to choose groups of people who could work together. It is necessary to provide the subsidy, but it is not a large amount of money and this amount is at least an investment in people and their well being.

Peter Hennessy from Kingston writes: My limited qualification to speak about the Eastside is based on the fact that my deceased brother, a disabled veteran of WWII spent the last third of his life as a social worker and veterans' advocate in the Eastside. I spent many days there after my brother's death researching a book about his work. The United Church-sponsored low rent apartment building at 501 E Hastings, Bill Hennessy House, is named after my brother. The G & M stories Feb 14 '09 ring true. The benefit of the Eastside is that it is a gathering place for the down-and-outers of Canada. The sense of community is overwhelmingly strong on those forsaken streets and alleys. One of the reasons for the failure of so many efforts to reform 'Canada's slum' is that many of the residents reject reform efforts as threats to their way of life and as bureaucratic intrusions. Too many of the 'do-good' projects have been layered with transparent manipulation. If government with the consent of the governed is the basic democratic principle for the rest of the country (with exceptions of course), then why not apply the principle to the Eastside ? It might work like this. Fully accepting that the Eastside is a uniquely special place i.e. 'Canada's slum', consider a uniquely special program based on the mentoring principle. Might work like this : the appropriate federal government department , say Health, would announce an offer of $25,000. plus transportation) to any qualified adult resident of the Eastside who wishes to re-locate under the guidance and support of a mentor (selected according to criteria, of course). The mentor and mentee would work out a program of personal growth and development to be achieved in minimal terms in, say, two years. The mentor would be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses. Otherwise it would be his/her civic contribution. This is not a unique idea. It's essentially what was done very successfully for the 'boat people' after the Vietnam War.

JMFT S from Coquitlam Canada writes: People get their sense of self-worth from their families and their community and that is where the repair has to start all across Canada. The Risk Factor: Poverty. A Solution: Better support for single families and children of divorce to deal with the extra pressures they face in a society organized around the two working parents family. The Risk Factor: Incomplete/poor Education. A Solution: More sensitive and appropriate evaluation and education/training for children with different learning styles so they can complete their education. The Risk Factor: Early involvement with crime. A Solution: Better support for pre-teens and teens in school and in the community to help them deal with personal and societal pressures at home and in school. The Risk Factor: Mental Illness. A Solution: Better mental health awareness and education brought into the community and the school system so that young people and their families will know when mental health is an issue and where the resources are to help. A Risk Factor: Poor community mental health resources. A Solution: Better mental health resources in the community. A Risk Factor: Early involvement with crime. A Solution: Better system of dealing with young adults involved with the law. For example: better mental health services for these young people and better management within the system, i.e., don't mix them with hardened criminals in the processing of their charges and punishment - they risk becoming the on-the-street presence of these incarcerated professionals who offer the enticing promise of belonging and relative success in a world that otherwise seems to have no use for them. The Risk Factor: Physically deteriorating neighbourhoods. A Solution: Drug pushers/dealers thrive best where human misery is compounded by physical debris and decay. All neighbourhoods must be kept to a certain high standard of physical repair.

Tyrol Russell from Vancouver writes: Modify commercial property taxes. Most of the buildings in the downtown eastside are heritage status commercial buildings. The assessment of such buildings is done by taking the ACTUAL net rental income from the property and multiplying it by a factor (currently about 17 in the DES). Conversely, non-heritage buildings common elsewhere in the city are assessed by taking the fair market value of the property (which is somewhat based on the POTENTIAL income from the property). The result in the downtown eastside is that the owner of a vacant rundown building, which contributes to crime and vandalism costly to the city, ironically pays very little in taxes. If the owner updates the building and manages it well, rents will increase and so will taxes (an increase in property taxes from $0.50 to $6.00 per square foot per year would be normal). A vibrant neighbourhood depends on responsible building owners, but the current policy provides a disincentive. A minimum tax rate to remove the advantage for vacant or dilapidated buildings should be implemented (say $2.00/sft). Social housing or support centres could be allocated a deduction to reflect the deliberately below market rents. I believe that you'd see a lot of the currently vacant buildings being opened and repaired to ensure that they were earning enough income to cover taxes.

Guy BC from Vernon Canada writes: Since taxpayers are paying to bail out the Olympic village why not convert these condos after the Olympics into low cost or free housing for homeless and addicts who are willing to work and comply with drug rehab programs? This half way house could employ dozens if not hundreds of people. The clients could also be employed for the upkeep of the project - cooking, janitorial duties, tending a garden - providing some useful skills that they could use in the future so that they can help themselves. In projects like this in other countries such as Italy the clients create art or other crafts and sell them online or at a gift shop. The profits subsidize the project and the clients gain more skills. This may also provide some badly needed economic stimulus.

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Return to Canada’s Slum:The Fix

Speak your mind

With the 2010 Olympics coming to Vancouver, the eyes of the world will be on the city's Downtown Eastside. The millions poured into the neighbourhood seem to have had little impact on its squalor, its people or their problems with addiction. What should be done? Where would you start? How would you fix Canada's slum?


Public Forum:

On March 24 at 7 p.m. PT, The Globe, in partnership with CTV and the University of British Columbia, will bring together experts with fresh solutions for the Downtown Eastside at a public forum at UBC’s Robson Square campus.


For tickets, call toll-free 1-866-545-0016.
Update (March 6, 2009): Tickets are now SOLD OUT


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