Email Inbox

Eastside Stories is a blog that is open to everyone, and I encourage you to share your thoughts, opinions and questions on the topics we discuss. All comments must be approved prior to appearing in the blog. Though there may be times when your comment is not approved immediately, don’t fret. If it meets the standard of respectful discourse it will be published. Comments containing inappropriate language, and those I deem to be in poor taste or disrespectful, will not. Below are some of the questions I received this week.

Is there a reason that the person injecting heroin didn’t go to Insite to do it?

A heroin addict shoots up on the street.

When I find someone shooting up on the street instead of at Insite, I make a point to ask him or her why.  There are a few common excuses. Some people are desperate for their fix. So desperate, that once they score dope they say they have to use it right away. Others admit they just don’t want to wait in line at Insite, or say they have been barred from the facility. Some are forced to sell drugs by non-addicted, predatory drug dealers (more about this in a later post), and they’re not allowed to leave their block until they’ve finished work. They can’t wait that long, so they shoot up between deals.

A couple years ago I found one woman injecting heroin into the throat of another, as she lay on her back in the lane behind the Carnegie Centre. The reason? After years of hardcore drug use, the girl being injected could no longer find veins in her arms and legs. The only vein she could find was in her neck, and she needed help to do it. Since Insite does not allow people to inject each other, she decided to have someone do it behind the community centre.

The pictures are dramatic and expressive but I was wondering – do you get permission to take them of the people? Does anyone give you any problems?

Some binners can make good coin collecting bottles.

I started carrying a digital camera so I could document the things I see. Words really don’t express a lot of what goes on down here. Generally, if someone is in public he or she is allowed to be photographed, whether it’s by you, by me or by the media. Rarely does anyone complain about having his or her picture taken, especially if it’s for an educational purpose. That said, for this blog, I will not force anyone to have their picture taken and I will try to protect people’s privacy by not showing close-ups of their faces. Should someone ask me not to photograph them for this blog, I will certainly respect that.

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?

Gentrification is a bit of a dirty word with some on the Downtown Eastside. There has been a fair amount of new development along Hastings Street, particularly with the Woodward’s project in the 100 West Hastings. Other redevelopments include Paris Block in the 000 W Hastings Street and 60 West Cordova. The province and the City of Vancouver have done a pretty good job at factoring in low-income housing for new projects like Woodward’s, and have partnered to purchase and fix-up a number of old hotels. The issue remains quite political as the civic election looms. It’s hard for me to answer your questions with specificity, because I simply don’t have the information. What I can do is speak generally.

The Woodward’s redevelopment was already underway when I began working on the Downtown Eastside. At that time, there were still a number of rooming houses on the south side of the 100 West Hastings. Those SROs have since been shut and the tenants displaced.

While it appears Woodward’s has made a marked improvement to the block, it does not appear this project and other new developments have forced large numbers of people out of the Downtown Eastside. If anything, it’s pushed people a block or two down East Hastings Street.

One of the reasons why the Downtown Eastside has such a high number of homeless, mentally ill and drug addicted people is because this is where the services for these people are concentrated. Generally speaking, this is still where the cheapest rents are. It’s still the easiest place to score dope. And it’s not hard to find a free meal.

Some argue that as long as the majority of the services for the poor, addicted and mentally ill remain in this concentrated area, the people who need those services will continue to live here.

So, that said, here are a few questions for you: Should we continue to concentrate services such as shelters, needle exchanges, bottle depots, low-income housing and soup kitchens in the Downtown Eastside? Or, would we be better off spreading out the services to areas like Dunbar, Kerrisdale or Collingwood? Do you think spreading these services throughout Vancouver would help decrease the concentration of poverty, drugs, violence and prostitution in the Downtown Eastside? What kind of impact would it have on other areas of the city?

I’d be interested to know your position on Insite. There was a time when I would have supported it, but as the years roll by I realize that the numbers for success are just not there. I personally feel we require the 4 pillars, and that doesn’t seem to be part of the equation.

There is perhaps no other topic in the Downtown Eastside that is as polarizing as Insite. The facility, located in the 100 block of East Hastings Street, opened in 2003 as North America’s first legal supervised injection site. Intravenous drug users can legally use Insite to inject themselves with drugs, under the watch of nurses.

Insite, the supervised injection site.

Insite operates under a constitutional exemption to Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In other words, it’s not illegal to possess and consume drugs like heroin and cocaine at Insite.

Insite has been around the Downtown Eastside much longer than I have, so it’s hard for me to judge the difference it’s made. I don’t really have a baseline to reference.

When Insite opened, the Vancouver Police Department’s position what that it was in favour of any legal measure that might have a chance to reduce the drug problem on the Downtown Eastside.

The department’s interest has always been public safety. That’s our business. Our mandate is not research and it’s not public health, and the police department has made it clear it has no interest in taking a stand in the political and medical debate. I’m not prepared to do so either in this blog.

How do you get your employer to support your blog?

Members of the Vancouver Police Department have a history of being on the cutting edge when it comes to using media to educate and inform people about the tragic and wasted lives on the Downtown Eastside.

Sgt. Toby Hinton, (Ret.) Const. Al Arsenault and the rest of the Odd Squad led the way with Through a Blue Lens, produced in 1999 by the National Film Board of Canada. The officers carried video cameras on the beat to document the existence of several Downtown Eastside residents and their fight to survive.

Odd Squad Productions, a registered society and charity, has since produced a number of educational videos and documentaries, including Stolen Lives and Tears for April, which documents the life and death of April Reoch on Skid Row.

Odd Squad members continue to travel the country to share their stories with youth, and frequently take high-school students and young athletes on walk-alongs through the Downtown Eastside to give them a first-hand look at the horror.

Constable Sandra Glendinning carried on the tradition started by the Odd Squad when she launched her own blog, Behind the Blue Line, in 2008. Constable Glendinning spent eight years working Vancouver’s Eastside, and is only the second female officer to serve on the department’s Dog Squad. In addition to her blog, Constable Glendinning writes a weekly column for the Vancouver Sun, which appears in the paper’s Friday Driving section.

Most recently, VPD entered the Twitterverse, launching a Twitter account in December 2010 and featuring a Tweet-a-long in which a VPD constable tweeted updates throughout her patrol shift on the city’s eastside.

Other VPD forays into social media include a Flikr page and a Facebook profile.

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12 Responses to Email Inbox

  1. WBC says:

    The Police seem to have an enormous amount of their resources eaten up in dealing with the mentally ill which obviously takes away from their efforts for policing. I’d loved to hear your opinions on the following questions:

    1. should the government put in place further resources to contend with the mentally ill and in what forms of resources

    2. even if the government were to do so, what percentage of these people would even make use of such resources

    3. realistically, what percent of the mentally ill have any chance of ever improving their outlook to a point of ever becoming self-sufficient and perhaps contributing members of society

    4. and perhaps, the same questions as it applies to those of the alcohol and drug addicted groups of people

    Thx in advance for your perspectives.

  2. DC says:

    Found your blog from a post on Cst. Glendinning’s site. It’s almost as if “eloquent wordsmith” is a requirement to join the VPD.

    Look forward to seeing what else you come up with.

  3. Richard says:

    Great blog! Keep it up.

    What do you think about the policies being pushed by Libby Davies? Are they contributing to the addictions problems in East Vancouver or helping?

  4. Alanah says:

    Hi. Just wanted to say I really like the blog. I live outside Vancouver, but my mother lived in Vancouver’s Eastside for around 25 years or so.

    Her life there was mixed… there were times she struggled terribly, but mostly she managed a normal, modest life in the area. My own impression of the place was largely guided by what she taught me… that her neighbourhood, in many ways, was no different from most others. That for the majority of long-term residents, they were working families just trying to get by, albeit surrounded by very tough circumstances. My mom was (and still is) a very tough cookie, and knew how to take care of herself down there, but she also had a lot of good friends there, too. Walking around with her down there, I could see my mother knew nearly everyone — she knew who to keep an eye on and who she could turn her back on – but most of the time, it was pretty ‘normal’ She would say hi to the local shop keepers, her neighbours’ kids, and so on.

    In fact, one thing about the Eastside that I really liked was that so many of the people living there really seemed to know their neighbours well, and truly looked out for one another… moreso than in my own, more middle-class, community, I often thought.

  5. Chris says:

    Re: Imouto House, opened to house high-risk predominantly aboriginal young women (undisputedly the MOST vulnerable people in society today…). Can you see any good coming from warehousing these vulnerable young women in the middle of the DTES with no security at the building, only one “house mom” on duty to protect them? What about when they step out their front door? Every pimp and john looking to use a young girl is going to be “shopping” down there, are they not? Sick idea…..they need refuge, but it shouldn’t be in the core of the downtown eastside.

  6. Janice says:

    I really like your stories and pictures, it is all to very real. Just a comment about moving services for the poor and the homeless to other areas, we all know the answer to that”not in my back yard!” So unfortunate.We are having the same problem in Prince George.They want to open a rahb for women in a very nice location on the outskirts of town and there is a lot of hub bub about it. People need to realise that those in need belong to some one and they have rights to have proper care and health just as anybody does. You are doing the right thing by putting this info as well as pictures out there, because I believe that some people have their heads burried in the sand.Education is power and ignorance gets you nowhere! THank you for doing this.I wish there was more I could do to help those in need, in any case my heart goes out to all of them.

  7. Norman says:

    It truly is sad how disconnected to emotions, truth, reality, gravity of the situation one can find oneself in. Having exp this 1st hand ending up down here[pain n wastings] and feeling at home and a sense of better than, I had. I was’nt the person in the alley and then I was in the alley but I was’nt the guy in the dumpster in the alley you got it I was the guy in the dumpster, I finely ended up in treatment and recieved help only to find out its almost a daily struggle to stay clean. And the hardest thing to do for a lot of people is to forgive themselves and exepect forgiveness. I feel the sad reality is if society really wanted to end the drug problem they could but its become big bussiness policing judges lawyers gaurds prisons delivery drivers you get the picture on and on its the biggest non productive industry in the world what does it produce pissed off people with issues that have issues looking to get even… worse I have no answeres just observations that might or might not be distorted Its an inside job [heart] For people to change thier ways they 1st have to want to, then getting enough,courage ,humility to ask for recieve and use the HELP offered its alosing battle cause lets face it . It’s not a perfect world. And its a whole lot easier to throw ones hands in the air and say to self whats the use,So my heartfelt thanks goes out to the few that do what they can, to help the the people that are looking for help. And thats quite a few. good on you!

  8. Carol says:

    I want to comment from a heartbroken mothers perspective, my daughter is somewhere downtown and I have been unable to find her for months. I last saw her last Christmas. I am raising her daughter and we miss her dreadfully. It is very difficult to write this but I want everyone to know especially her, if that was possible, that she is so loved. I pray with all my heart that she would feel how loved she is. Precious girl you will always be my sweetheart. Love mom

  9. Susie says:

    Great blog, Steve. I’ve always enjoyed your writing and it’s nice to see you have been able to merge both your previous and your present careers in this manner.

  10. DTES Vet says:

    Having worked in the DTES for over 12 yrs and being a former staff member of InSite I can confirm that the site works. When I first starting working on Hastings you could not move for the amount of needles on pavement or alleys, although there are still some signs of this it is 100% better. My job while working at InSite was getting people into detox, housing, treatment….
    Like anything else in life people will only succeed if they really want to do it. You can not push people to detox and expect them to come out clean if they are not ready.
    A little known fact about Vancouver is there is licences waiting for many other detox’s and treatment centre’s but the city will not release them for some unknown reason. When I left the DTES there were over 10,000 registered users of all walks of life and only 34 licensed detox beds.
    The process for getting into detox is very long and hard for someone who lives in chaos and does not have a phone. You have to make a 40 min call to register (if you can find someone to let you use a phone) then call back everyday till a bed is free. If you miss a day they put you back to the end of the list. If you are homeless and they have no way of contacting you and then miss a day calling so that you miss your bed you have to wait three months to try again.
    I can attest to having many success stories, but you have to keep in mind everyone has there own level of success. It could mean housing, detox or just a warm bed for the night.
    The staff at InSite do an amazing job and so do the VPD in helping those with no hope of ever getting out of the DTES.
    Love your blog Steve and keep up the excelent work!!

    • JustSayin says:

      DTES Vet – I do not work in the addiction or mental health fields, but as a regular person, my experience with needle exchanges is exactly opposite of yours. I live in Victoria, and work a few blocks from where the needle exchange used to be. Getting to work in the morning was almost a hazardous experience (avoiding discarded needles and stoned people), and in fact, our Joint Occupational Health & Safety Committee designed safety policies/ procedures based on the ‘external’ hazards of our work neighbourhood. Within weeks of the needle exchange closure, the discarded needles – and their owners – began to disappear from our neighbourhood. Today, our external work environment is less hazardous, cleaner, and generally a more pleasant place to be every day.

      I realize that drug addiction issues are tragic and complex, and that something needs to be done – but I can guarantee that based on my experience here – I will forever be a ‘NIMBY’ – and that is likely what the detox centres are up against.