Welcome to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

It’s been called a chemical gulag, a place where the most hardcore drug addicts plunge poison into their veins in search of the ultimate high.

It’s been defended as Vancouver’s last refuge for the marginalized and working poor, the majority of them law-abiding citizens who rarely have contact with police.

It’s been labeled (incorrectly) Canada’s poorest postal code, a distinction that rightly goes to New Brunswick’s Burnt Church First Nation.

Whatever you call it, make no mistake. Life is hard on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

No doubt you’ve heard about the Downtown Eastside. You’ve probably read about it or seen it talked about on TV. You may have driven through once or twice, maybe even got out of your car.

But do you really know what it’s like to walk the streets and gutters of Vancouver’s Skid Row? Do you really know what it’s like to stand inside a one-room hovel with no toilet or running water? To dodge bed bugs that drip from the ceiling? To stamp out cockroaches as they scurry up your shoes and burrow into your socks?

Do you really know what it’s like to see the misery? To smell it? To taste it in the air?

I do. And so does the rest of Vancouver Police Department’s Beat Enforcement Team. We are the first line of defence against the violence, crime and misery that plagues this neighbourhood. We are the last resort for people with nowhere else to turn.

Welcome to a new blog about policing Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

In the coming weeks and months I will use this space to share my insights, reflections and anecdotes about the life of a Hastings Street beat cop. The goal is to give you a first-hand and unfiltered look from the eyes of a beat cop on the Downtown Eastside, and to entertain, inform and ignite discussion about the pressures emergency responders face in this dangerous, political and unpredictable neighbourhood.

I invite you to check back frequently, and to share your thoughts and questions by commenting on a specific post or by emailing me at steve.addison@vpd.ca.

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25 Responses to Welcome to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

  1. John Jacobsen says:

    Thanks for writing this blog. It’s important we see the human side life in the DTES. Is it within the scope of your blog for you to offer your opinion on things and what can be done? For example, your comments about how there will never be enough police or jails to deal with the addicts or the dealers seem to point to the failure of the drug policies we have. Also, the recent news that a third of all arrests VPD makes deal with people with mental problems. It sure would be interesting to get your take on these things.
    Keep up the good work and stay safe.

  2. Sandra Gagnon says:

    Wow you could write a book or do a documentry.
    This hits close to home for me. My sister: Janet Gail Henry is one of the missing women from down there. Take Care

  3. james reynolds says:

    Hey Steve, just a thumbs up for taking the time to share your stories with us. it’s a window into another world, one that we coexist with and yet know almost nothing about. fascinating story about the fellow who speaks 7 languages, yet wrestles with heroin addiction. he reminded me of someone from that book by William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, getting caught up in the romance of the addict’s life-style. that’s all for now, and I will look forward to your future posts.

  4. Millie says:

    Dear Cst.(?) Addison: My heart goes out to you and all the other BET and other members of the VPD who seem to have a never-ending compassion for the people on the streets, whether addicts or people with mental disorders or both. I could not be more proud. Thank you!

  5. George says:

    Being that this is your first post and still a new venture for you, I will encourage you to continue with this. It is an insight that is worth the time and effort you spend in that environment.

    I would caution you though, as a representative of the Vancouver Police Department and Officers in general in Canada to put more thought into your words you select. I am somewhat curious as to the wording that I will quote in a second here. I am bothered by it because it says so much with just a few words.

    The quote is in reference to Canada’s poorest postal code: “…a distinction that rightly goes to New Brunswick’s Burnt Church First Nation.”

    Rightly. That one word alone within the context you have written it says so much about the perception of you and by association the Vancouver Police Department. I would argue that saying that such distinction belongs to a Native Group is RIGHT in your eyes proves to me that you believe it to be right that Natives be poor. It speaks to your character is what I am getting at and again, I am only going on your words you presented and of course, my interpretation.

    I could easily be reading more into this than you had intended but when you grasp the power of words, you understand that all it can take is one word to change completely the meaning of something that you write.

    As an author, you have that responsibility now. To share not only your experiences in the DTE but to do so in a manner that does no convey the notion that it is RIGHT for a First Nations community to be the poorest overall.

    I applaud this blog and whether you agree or not, this is your debriefing and you are doing it in a public forum, keep that in mind and keep in mind that the people that affect you while you are down there are no different as you state, they just made a bad choice. It might have not been a wrong decision but who’s to say what is right and what is wrong. Notice I didn’t use the word, legal?

    Right and wrong are very much concepts that we all align ourselves to and sadly, that alignment is not a universal one.

    – George Nelson

    • Darcy says:

      I think what he meant by ‘rightly’ is that it’s ‘wrongly’ associated with DTES, so the distinction ‘rightly’ goes to another community. I’m positive that the sentance would have read exactly the same had it been any other community in Canada. Everyone reads things from their own point of view, sensitivities and life experiences, but I do believe that you’re taking it in a way it was not intended.
      I should hope that he writes from his heart and like many successful bloggers, hits ‘post’ before rereading, editing and scrubbing for potential triggers for others… it wouldn’t be quite as compelling if it wasn’t as honest as it is now.

    • Warren says:

      You mistook his words completely. He didn’t say the distinction rightfully goes to New Brunswick’s Burnt Church BECAUSE it is a first nation community. He only meant that it rightfully earned the distinction only because it IS the poorest postal code in Canada, and that the DTES was incorrectly labeled as such. Burnt Church is (correctly) the poorest postal code in Canada, and the DTES is (incorrectly as it is sometimes perceived) not. Maybe he should have used “correctly” instead of “rightfully”, but he meant the same thing. You took the words completely out of context… …the statement had nothing to do with First Nations, however you construed it to make it so.

      • George says:

        He used the word Rightly and has not posted a reply. I will take your comments both at face value because you both are doing the same thing I did, react to the words presented.

        I don’t know either of you or if you have intimiate knowledge of what the blogger Meant to say but I appreciate your comments for they show that no matter who or what you write about, the reaction to your writing has so much potential to go either way.

        As you can both see, there are at least three views on what he meant when using the word ‘rightly’ and it is important for an author to be as aware as posible when taking on something that mean so much to so many and so little to so many more.

  6. Ben says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this blog. Perhaps it may give a voice to the mentally ill that get caught in the whirlpool of budget cuts. the addicts who want to stop (but cant)
    To the folks in Law Enforcement who are on the front lines of this shit everyday and get called jaded or uncaring because they have to retreat mentally/emotionally to another place everyday to make them “normal” Husbands/Wives/Moms & Dads.
    Thank you as well.

  7. Cst. Addison,

    Thanks for bringing this blog about.

    Its great to hear from you and the VPD on what you experience in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

    You guys do a great job and we in Vancouver are fortunate to have you!

    Keep up the good work!

  8. Siri says:

    Hi Steve,

    RCMP Watch clerk here. Firstly, what a great opportunity to provide some human perspective from behind the badge. It’s both unfortunate, and a sign of a job well done, that the vast majority of police work goes unnoticed, unremarked and certainly unthanked.

    I th0ught I’d point out a small but very apt typo in this post. By “one-room hobble”, I think you mean, “one-room hovel”. But make no mistake, most DTES dwellers are hobbled tightly, some by their choices, some by circumstances so awful as to seem to leave no room for better decisions. The bootstrap-and-sweat brigade who would have everyone conquer their demons and simply make more sensible, societally-pleasant decisions have no idea…

    As a first-generation ‘couverite, I have a somewhat sentimental zeal for this city’s history, and I’m uplifted by the visible changes I see in the once-golden DTES. You can’t go back, though, and I’m interested to know how the residents are faring with all the new development. Are locals actually finding housing, and being treated as part of the community, or are they decamping to other troubled areas just a Skytrain ride away? I’m curious. What do you think?

  9. RICHARD says:

    HULLO V.P.D.

    The Harsh Reality of Drug Addiction richardmclaughlin007 — January 18, 2009 — after 11 months of sobriety from drug addiction, in 7 short days this man hits the depths of despair and insanity.

    http://healthznews.com/the-harsh-reality-of-drug-addiction.html

    Chaos on the streets, lives destroyed “Harm Reduction” Is it really working?? you judge for your self A slideshow of the Downtown Eastside in all it’s glory and at it’s best. See first hand the lives destroyed by misguided harm reduction

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TxCjrJzoD8&feature=fvsr

    These video’s were shot in Vancouver’s downtown eastside by the narrator they are quite extreme, It shows how common place and and readily available drugs are and how people can succumb to a extreme physical reaction from lack of sleep, nutrition and dehydration. The video’s were made for many different reasons, one being educational the other as mentioned earlier it’s common place here in Vancouver, in any other city or town in North America this man[ Harsh Reality of Drug Addiction] would have received immediate medical attention but here in Vancouver both the police and ambulance just drive by. If you do not believe me come on down and see our little human circus slash “HARM REDUCTION EXPERIMENT”

    This man was spotted two hours later sleeping on a concrete curb as his pillow.

    Both the narrator and producer of this video have had spent many years struggling with addiction and have spent hard time in Vancouver’s “NOTORIOUS” downtown eastside.

    Today they have escaped and are clean and sober and now dedicate there lives to those who still suffer from “THE HARSH REALITY OF ADDICTION”

  10. Campbell River says:

    Thank you for sharing you’re stories with us, I just visited Vancouver recently and took a drive to the DTES with my 19 year old son, which I have done in the past on many occasions. People have asked me, “how can you take you’re child down there to see that?” my answer always is, I want him to be aware I want his eyes open to the power & devastation of addiction. There is just as many poor souls on the street today as there was 10 years ago, my son said they all look like the walking dead.

    Growing up in a small town hundreds of kms away from the DTES is not so far away, I myself have 2 childhood friends that lost their lives due to addiction, 1 overdosed on the street alone (Mandy Blakemore) and the other (Marnie Frey) DNA was found on Pickton’s farm. Another girlfiend of mine @1 time a loving mother, also ended up dead down some dark alley. So people educatate you’re children, do not sugarcoat addiction.

  11. Welcome to the bloggerverse! I wish there was more LEOs out there blogging, though I understand why not. I wish you well and look forward to reading more!

  12. rbjacko7 says:

    I’m pretty much echoing the comments of others, but thank you so much for writing this blog. I hope you continue to do so. There is more to Vancouver than its clean, polished image. I think it’s important that people see the REAL Vancouver: the kindness, the compassion, the anger, the illness, the violence, the drugs…the humanity.

  13. blenn says:

    Thanks for writing this blog…a great eye opener for those who don’t understand what life is out there. I will be one of your followers! Good job! Take care<3

  14. Andrew Fiore says:

    I have been living with schizophrenia for over 12 years. I used to self medicate with heroin. I lived in 70% of the flop houses in Vancouver’s notorious downtown east side. Now I’m a productive video blogger that gives a voice to the marginalized people of the downtown east side. Please take a look at my filmography here, http://www.healthchampion.blogspot.com

    Please send comments to, afiorefilm@gmail.com

    thanks,

    Andrew Fiore
    Fiore Films
    http://www.healthchampion.blogspot.com

  15. ME659 says:

    I’ve been through there, it was unbelievable. I could see all the addicts up by Main & Hastings, drug deals, Quite a rough area and i will be makeing the right choices and never end up on the streets down there or anywhere for that matter selling or using drugs.

  16. I went homeless in the Downtown Eastside for a week during Christmas 2010, to get my own experience of the DTES. All I brought with me a sleeping bag and clothes. During my stay there, three of VPD officers took down my blog address. So it is nice to see that they have started their own project. I am certain that some have read my blog. I wrote a 120-page journal during my seven days there, and if anybody is interested in reading a different perspective (non-police officer, nor group affiliated), then please go the following links:

    City TV interview: CityTV Coverage (<1 min)
    My blog: A Homeless Christmas

    The more people join in, the quicker we’ll transform Vancouver to being a better place to live. There is always room for improvement.

    Thank you,
    Nima Farzaneh

  17. Meg says:

    ‘But do you really know what it’s like to walk the streets and gutters of Vancouver’s Skid Row? Do you really know what it’s like to stand inside a one-room hovel with no toilet or running water? To dodge bed bugs that drip from the ceiling? To stamp out cockroaches as they scurry up your shoes and burrow into your socks?

    Do you really know what it’s like to see the misery? To smell it? To taste it in the air?’

    As a matter of fact, yes.

  18. Tracey says:

    Your blog shows that everyone has a story. Thank you for showing that each and every person down there is not down there by choice. The more people who understand that addiction is a disease the more we can all help those in need.

    Keep up the good work!!

  19. catherine.T. says:

    I think this website is the perfect thing for the dowtown east side. Everything that you read is the truth & that,s what people need to hear. Not everyone in the downtown east side are drug addicts & alcoholics there are some normal people here. I live downtown cause i am an ex-user i have been clean for a year & a half where i live the rent is cheap & vancouver is one of the most expensive city to live.

  20. Dyana says:

    I have a teenage son who wants to be police officer. I’m both proud and scared of his decision. Of course, before starting any job or career, one doesn’t really know what it will be like. I think I’ll introduce him to your blog. That way when the time comes to make that actual decision whether to be a police officer, he’ll at least be making a more informed choice.

    Thank you for providing that opportunity.

  21. James M. says:

    Great blog, Officer, & here’s couple of links for readers;

    A Lower Mainland blog about the Gang wars; *Gangsters Out.*

    http://tinyurl.com/6cevf9g

    *Borderland Beat* is the big, top US blog for the Mexican Cartel wars.

    http://tinyurl.com/2crwoad

    Good Luck and Thanks!

  22. mike vanson says:

    Thank you for doing what you do.
    I live in Ab. and have been to the East side all 3 times I have been to Van. I wanted to take my two teenage boys for a walk through on my last trip in Aug. but they could’nt make it. It is so hard for people from the “normal” walks of life to understand what happens their.
    As lots of other people said, Be Safe