Welfare Wednesday

0005 hrs – It’s midnight, but you wouldn’t know it by the number of people on the street. The line-ups already stretch out the doors at the bank machines, and the little corner stores that line East Hastings Street are teeming with people. Welfare day is here, and cheques have just been direct-deposited into everyone’s account. Outside, the non-addicted dope dealers are ready to cash in. They hover near the ATMs like pigs waiting at the trough. There’s a chill in the air, so they’re dressed warm tonight. Many are sporting their trademark black puffy jackets. Others have umbrellas in case it rains. It’s going to be long and profitable day for them.

0130 hrs – A fight breaks out on Abbott Street. I’m part of the cavalry of cop cars that responds. It’s under control by the time I get there, so I move along. Just drunk kids from one of the Gastown bars who can’t handle their liquor.

0200 hrs – A quick stop by the Portland Hotel to see if my Ken Foster original painting is ready. I commissioned the work earlier in the night, and he assured me it would be at the front desk when I came by at the end of my shift. The staff have no idea what I’m talking about, and there’s no answer at Foster’s door.

0245 hrs – I sign off for the night and have a quick debrief with the squad before heading home for some sleep.

1130 hrs – I’m jolted awake by my alarm clock. Fighting a headache caused by too many night shifts and not enough sleep, I pull myself together and rush into work for an early afternoon court appearance.

1300 hrs – Pre-trial interview with Crown counsel goes well. Our evidence looks good.

1400 hrs – The trial is supposed to start, but there’s no sign of the accused. The judge tells us to wait another half hour to see if he shows.

1425 hrs – The accused saunters into the courthouse, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, with a second shirt slung over his shoulder like a gym towel. Trial starts in ernest.

1507 hrs – The judge doesn’t like our evidence as much as we did. Not-guilty verdict. I feign pleasantries with the chipper legal aid lawyer as we head downstairs.

1515 hrs – Exit the courthouse in desperate need of coffee and breakfast. I’m supposed to be working one-man tonight, so I make plans with my old partner, Tyler, to visit Save-on-Meats for their all-day brekkie. But first we’ve got to deal with the shirt-less guy flipping out across the street. He’s flailing around, delivering spinning karate-kicks at phantom opponents and doing the kind of back-bends that would make even Bikram Coudhury shudder. His behaviour, the track marks on his arms, and the needle and crack pipe in his pocket, give us a pretty good idea of what he’s been up to. We call for EHS, and 36 minutes later our friend is heading to St. Paul’s Hospital with the ambulance crew for some Narcan.

1554 hrs – We make it less than a block before we turn the corner at Main and Hastings to find our next casualty. He’s slumped on the sidewalk outside Owl Drugs, clutching an open can of Black Label beer. His buddies scatter as we approach, likely fearful that we’re going to take away their beer and marijuana. He’s drunk and it’s starting to rain. If we leave him here he’s likely to be robbed. Since his buddies aren’t interested in taking care of him, I guess we have to. We call for Saferide, a group of recovering alcoholics who transport drunk people to detox so that we don’t have to stick them in jail. The Saferide wagon arrives 15 minutes later and loads our friend into the back. They’ve already got one on board. He’s belted up, and slumped over on the bench seat, completely oblivious.

1620 hrs – We’ve made it a whole block, but it took 11 minutes. En route, we dumped two more beers and destroyed a crack pipe. A couple people told me I look like that guy who’s doing the police blog. Now, at the corner of Carrall and Hastings, and elderly man approaches to say he thinks a drunk guy in Pigeon Park just got robbed. He refuses to give any more information and explains how he wants nothing to do with me. When I pressure him for a suspect description, he mutters how this is the last time he’ll ever report anything to the police, then shuffles away. We check on the man in Pigeon Park. Judging by the odour, he’s been slamming mouthwash to get drunk. He has no idea what happened and is too drunk to even talk. I canvass for witnesses, but amazingly, nobody seems to know what happened. The ambulance crew shows up a few minutes later and takes our newest casualty to hospital as a precaution.

1645 hrs – At this rate I fear we may never make it to Save-on-Meats, so we flag down a passing police car and hitch a ride. The all-day breakfast is worth the wait, as Tyler and myself enjoy the only hour of rest we’re going to get all night. The staff treat us to a piece of pumpkin pie.

1751 hrs – Meal break is done. I step outside Save-on-Meats just in time to see the bartender at Funky Winkerbeans kicking someone out the door. He’s drunk, and he’s come back to the bar after being asked to leave. Off to jail to sober up.

1801 hrs – I run into Ken Foster outside the Portland. He asks me what time I’m off, then promises my painting will be ready for pick-up at the end of tonight’s shift. I have my doubts.

1814 hrs – Tyler and I have parted ways and I’m heading back to the police station to finish up some paperwork. I stop to deal with a guy smoking pot outside the Balmoral Hotel. He tosses the joint on the ground as I approach and I tell him he’s under arrest. My search finds 28 grams of marijuana and a can of bear spray in his pocket. I joke out-loud how I’ve never seen any grizzlies walking down East Hastings, and he admits he’s got the bear spray for protection. I know the courts won’t care about the weed, and it’s not against the law to carry bear spray. He agrees to sign both over to me for destruction, and I remove the cuffs.

1820 hrs – Still outside the Balmoral Pub, I recognize a woman who has court conditions not to be in the Downtown Eastside. I arrest her and off to jail we go.

2011 hrs – Almost caught up on my paperwork. I’m parked, idling in the lane behind the Carnegie Centre, trying to disrupt the drug activity. The guys with the umbrellas and the puffy jackets are still hanging around, and the rain is picking up. A car pulls into the lane, pauses, then drives away. I run the plate and find out it belongs to a guy who used to sell dope down here. I haven’t seen him for a while, but if he’s cruising the lanes on a welfare night, I figure he’s up to no good. I follow him as he circles the block, then light him up and pull him over to the curb. He gives me permission to search his car and I call for the drug dog. The K9 hits on nothing, except for some takeout on the passenger side floorboard. Oh well.

2244 hrs – The rain is letting up and things look to be calming down. I run into my friend, the poet, behind the Carnegie Centre. I tell her I posted her poem on my blog and that everybody loves it. She shows me another one, which she wrote about the father of her five children, the youngest of which is 8 months. Then she explains how she ended up down here, hooked on crack after trying it once, and how she now spends most of her time in a lean-to next to the needle exchange. It smells like a mixture or urine and rotting vegetables here. If misery is her inspiration, she’ll have plenty more to write about. She tells me that she’s looking forward to seeing her kids again, but that she has to be clean for 72 hours before she’s allowed. I tell her she has talent and that I’m rooting for her.

2330 hrs – The crowd at the Balmoral Pub is starting to let out, and there’s guaranteed to be some fights unless we get some police presence in the block. Problem is, everybody else is tied up on paperwork, and a couple of guys are guarding someone at St Paul’s Hospital. Guess I’ll have to try to keep the lid on things as best I can.

2335 hrs – I’m dispatched to a shoplifter call at a cold beer and wine store. I remember how long it took the last time I tried to walk down Hastings Street, so I decide to drive there. I begin walking to my car, which I left parked in front of the Regent Hotel hours ago. It’s been there a while, so there’s a chance the tires will be slashed or that one of the drug dealers has left a snot-sickle dangling from the door handle.

2340 hrs – I’m standing at Main and Hastings and can see my car. The tires look fully inflated, so I’m optimistic. I’m waiting for the walk signal when I’m interrupted by the sound of rushing water. I look over my shoulder to see a drunk guy urinating on the steps of the Royal Bank. I berate him and tell him this isn’t a barn-yard. He apologizes, zips up his fly, and extends his arm for a handshake. Given the circumstances, I decline.

2343 hrs – I make it to the liquor store. Turns out the would-be shoplifter stuffed a bottle of vodka down his pants, but it fell out and shattered before he left the store. Now security is holding him. I broker a deal. He pays $30 for the broken bottle and agrees never to come back to the store, and I tell him I won’t send him to jail. He agrees and I drive back to the Bal to sit outside and write my report.

2358 hrs – The bar is almost empty, but my car has now become a magnet for drunk people who want to be my friend. One girl taps on the passenger window to tell me a joke. Another staggers out to explain how she came down today to do a little charity work and decided to go for a few drinks. Yet another tells me I’m gorgeous and asks for my phone number (ok, she couldn’t have been that drunk).

0010 – The day is almost done, but I still don’t have my Ken Foster original. I drive back to the Portland and find my painting behind the front desk. It’s been framed, but the ladies working the desk say Ken wants extra for that. I head up to his room, which reeks of spray paint. Ken tells me he now wants $50 for the frame and painting, not the original $40 we agreed on. I have only $45, but offer to bring him the balance next week. He says he thinks I’m good for it and agrees to come downstairs for a photo.

0020 hrs – I get a wink and a smile from the girl behind the desk as Ken hands over the painting and hurries away. I stuff the frame in the back of my car and head back to the police station.

Welfare day is finally done.

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27 Responses to Welfare Wednesday

  1. Janice says:

    Welfare Wednesdays, sounds like a holiday and for some it seems so, taking drugs to escape reality.The next day the money is gone or the money is gone before the day even ends, and then another 30 days until the next bank deposit. 30 days must seem like an eternity for those on welfare. A lack of housing, food and shelter for most, but their money goes on drugs which they are slaves to. Not much of a life.I have heard from street people that once you are involved in the life style it is very difficult to leave it, it grabs every part of your being.
    Be proud of the work that you do, because for some you maybe their only friend. To the lady that writes the poems, I would like to copy and paste the first one she wrote to my profile page. It is one of the best I have ever read because it is very real. Being a front line worker for so long I know there are those who might benefit from reading it.Sometimes we all need a reality check!! I for one would love to read more of her writings. Power to you and the work that you do.God bless those who are less fortunate. Love reading your blogs!!

  2. Dot Coutts says:

    My son also works for VPD on the East Side so I’m reading your blog with great interest. I’m so proud of him and the work that you all do in that area of the city. Thank you.

  3. Ricardo Bortolon says:

    Wait, why did you destroy the person’s bear spray if it’s not illegal to possess? Obviously the whole situation was generous but what was the point? Just to punish him some more? Would it make a difference at the point?

    • Richard says:

      As I understand it, it’s pointless for him to carry because it’s illegal for him to use it against other people, even in self dcefence. So as the blog goes, it’s not like he’s going to run into any bears down there.

  4. Paul Walden says:

    Steve:
    I absolutely love the reality of your blog. I spent some time last year in the area where you work. I walked into a drug deal in an alleyway off Columbia St. south of Cordova. That, along with a walk down East Hastings, made the Downtown Eastside more real to me…a prostitute looking for a job, a kid trying to sell something I suspect he stole, stepping around several guys passed out or sleeping on the sidewalk, numerous others who were just out of it on something. I wished for a few moments that I wasn’t there, but I’m glad for the experience. I was greatly relieved when the cruiser stopped down the block. Maybe he knew I was out of my element. Keep up the great work. There is no easy answer, maybe no real answer at all, for what you have to deal with. Keep it up.

  5. Dave M says:

    Hello Steve…thank you for your blog…sounds like nothing much has changed since I walked the skids in the ’70’s…except we didn’t have to deal with Pivot or cell cameras…keep up the good work and stay safe. ExPc140

  6. Kim says:

    Thank you for the good work that you and your colleagues do in the downtown east side. Your blog and photographs are powerful messages & it should be a must read for every Vancouverite.

  7. Sam says:

    First, thanks for doing your best to help these people.

    Second, I want to mention the quality of the writing. This site is incredibly well-written and I look forward to your posts.

    Thanks.

  8. Jeff M. says:

    For the sake of reality but not to be picky the gentleman expressing himself so fluidly as you describe would not have been given Narcan for his apparent OD. Paramedics, (I’m a retired one) use Narcan only for heroin OD’s not cocaine psychosis as this person seems to be suffering from. We would have taken him to St.Paul’s, monitoring his heart rate closely en-route and preparing to defib or pace him should it get out of hand. The MD’s at St.Paul’s have a number of drugs they would then use to control his symptoms.

    I love your blog and you obviously have a talent for telling it as it is without freaking too many people out.

    Thanks,

    Jeff

    • saddison says:

      Thanks for the comment Jeff. The ambulance attendants told me they were taking him in for Narcan. I’m not a doctor, so I trust their judgement.

  9. Anthony says:

    I just wanted to say I LOVE your blog

    cheers,

  10. Elaine says:

    Great job Steve. Wondered how things have been going since leaving the newsroom. I guess you can take the man out of the journo environment, but can’t take the journo out of the man. Sounds like you’ve had some fast lessons, and after reading this last bit, I know I’ll never touch a car door again without looking.

  11. Chris says:

    That’s a very good painting. Mr Foster is very talented.

    Really enjoy the blog by the way Steve.

  12. Amanda says:

    It is a very interesting to read, from the perspective of police on Hastings. You seem sincere.
    I remember being 16 years old, living on the streets of Vancouver. The police would stop me for pan handling near Robson Street. They were always threatening to steal my gear and drop me off on Main and Hastings if they ever saw me begging for money again. I know of some kids they had done this to.
    I wonder how many junkies in east Van had similar experiences?
    Addiction, poverty, abuse and socioeconomic elements play a part in our prejudice within the community. We can choose to contribute by submitting to fundamentalist views in society or we can become more aware and do what we can to help as an individual.
    Just a thought.

    • Steve says:

      I do street work in Montreal, and I have heard (and witnessed) horror stories of the way people on the street are treated by the police here. To say the treatment lacks any degree of respect, and that they are abusing the hell out of their power would be a tremendous understatement.

      When I read your description of the way the police ‘handled’ you, Amanda, I’m thinking that it was not done to frighten you in a helpful way, but rather to frighten you in a condescending way.
      And that is tremendously unfortunate, as the police, by virtue of their position, could be helpful – both physically and emotionally – to these troubled individuals.

      As such, reading Steve’s blog here is quite refreshing – a welcome change from what I see here from the police.

      Regarding ‘Welfare Wednesdays’… Here, I refer to welfare day on the streets as the day that the population is out paying off some old debts, and creating a bunch of new ones.
      It’s a vicious cycle. And a tragic one.
      It’s nice to know that Steve is at least one cop who both recognizes this, and cares.

  13. Ben says:

    I liked the way you “Brokered”a deal with the would be shoplifter. I would assume this Joker only had about 30 bucks. If his party menu was to include a bottle and some drugs, your “Frontline Justice” provided restitution as well as denying the 30 bucks to some dealer downstream….way cool

  14. hotel goddess says:

    My first place of residence in Vancouver was on the corner of E Broadway and Commercial in 1993. I had no idea of the neighbourhood but it seemed like a nice place. That was until the massive amounts of sirens and ODs late into the night on one welfare Wednesday. I wonder if there is a better way we can help these people to help themselves who find themselves in these situations? although many addicts don’t publicize their illnesses, it’s a shame our system continues to feed their habits by handing them a cheque each month.

    • Steve says:

      I, personally, don’t think that giving them a cheque is the problem. The problem is in giving them a cheque and not caring what they do with it.

      These people need some sort of guidance. Many of them have no clue how to properly budget their money. Putting aside the money spent on drugs and booze, it is rather amazing to see them spending their money without a thought to anything beyond the next 30 minutes – every once in a while, you see that they’ve bought a laptop, or a cell phone contract… seemingly without consciously realizing that their two primary needs are food and shelter.

      If they got the same welfare cheque every month, but efforts were made, as much as possible, to ensure that the money from the cheque is spent on things like food and shelter and other positive and progressive things – instead of not caring what they spend it on – it would be better.

      It’s like someone giving a panhandler $5 and not knowing (or caring) where that $5 goes. Most people will create the comfortable illusion that their $5 will be used to buy food. The reality, unfortunately, is that this is rarely the case. But people feel good about themselves for ‘giving’ – whether they give $100 every Xmas to their favourite charity, or give a panhandler $5. The nature and context of these ‘giving scenarios is that A) the giver never knows what their money is actually funding, and B) the ‘giver’ feels good about him/her self simply for giving – creating whatever illusion is necessary for them to feel good about it.

      Instead of simply dropping $5 into a panhandler’s cup, I always encourage people to instead take 30 minutes of their time and invite the panhandler into a restaurant for some food. This has the benefit of both knowing exactly where your money is going (toward something positive), and also to make the panhandler feel truly valued.
      Sit with them in a restaurant for 30 minutes, and you’d be amazed with the stories they’ll tell you.

      • Janice says:

        I agree 100% that giving them a cheque is not the problem, it’s what they do with it. I have asked myself many times, why is Christmas the biggest time of year that so many donations come in from all over the place and the rest of the year there is very little? Homelessness and hunger doesn’t stop aor go away after Christmas. What about the rest of the year. Maybe food stamps instead of so much cash each month and proof of a rental unit before any money is handed out. There always has been tons of ideas floating around on how to help those in need to stop spending their cheques on drugs instead of food. Are there any real answers or solutions??

  15. Kim says:

    Where does one get a Ken Foster original? He’s incredibly talented, and I think there would be great demand for his art.

    • saddison says:

      Kim,
      Finding a Ken Foster original is all about luck and good timing. You won’t find them in any art galleries, that’s for sure. Try making your way down to Gastown on a busy evening and you might find him parading around one of his recent works. Then again, you might not. Like I said, it all depends on being in the right place at the right time.

  16. cheryl says:

    I second the Ken Foster demand, yes looks very talented and would love to see more…… Thank you for sharing welfare day in the downtown eastside. I have spent many days down there making sure my sister was still breathing throughout her addiction to hard drugs. The “East Hastings Life” is not so glamorous thats for sure! Its something so different i felt compelled to write a journal too because it is like no place i have ever seen. It’s so very heart breaking and at the same time oh so human. The Great Human Spirit Lives there as well hearts still beat and feel love and care. Everyone has a story. My sister eventually died my love couldn’t change her addictions. Its been ten years now, most days i drive through and think of her and our stories I called them, “slummin”, i would not let her die down there alone thinking no one gave a crap so we hung out there and most times were good times, thats what i had to do to have her in my life, to hear her so ya……… She was a lucky one she knew i loved her!
    Big hugs to you and thank you for listening and taking the time to hear their stories and telling us your stories. A common hurt or frustration is the feeling of just wanting to be heard to be acknowledged and it not happening EVER. You do good officer you hear you share and you acknowledge some people that share with you may not have ever had that and thats somethin……… Goodness works through you, hey welfare day is approaching soon get ready! 😉

  17. James says:

    Gee, it looks like officer saddison and officer tyler sure love to rack up those arrest counts. You’d think they are getting paid commission for rounding and locking people up on petty offences.

  18. DTES Vet says:

    I think I miss welfare day the most.
    I also had days like you when it took me an hour to go a block.
    Ken is brilliant!

    Love reading your blog.

  19. meghan says:

    I saw that photo leaning against the side of carnegie hall building, i wanted to buy it but couldnt see an owner anywhere near it. … totally jealous!

  20. JackieK says:

    I find myself awake at this late hour, for the second night in a row, captivated by anything and everything a member of the BET has to say. Not sure if you’ll remember that we met briefly last night as I headed off on a ride-along with Cal, having been out with Tobi and Mark earlier. The DTES opened my eyes and has me gravitated towards it now, sure for the first time that where I need to be is working down there with you all. Whether that means beside you (as a police officer) or in the general vicinity (be it a support worker, volunteer, etc) I am not yet sure, but I am in the process of figuring it out. I had heard in one of my Crim classes that one of the members of the VPD had a blog, unaware that he worked alongside Tobi (whom I already knew I would be doing a ride-along with), and found myself drawn to it. I will continue to follow and be in awe of your blog and your wonderful writing style. Hope to see you all soon,

    -Jackie

  21. Raingurl says:

    2011 hrs – Almost caught up on my paperwork. I’m parked, idling in the lane behind the Carnegie Centre, trying to disrupt the drug activity. (I thought I had you on the “no idle” rule but then I checked section 2.8 (b) of Bylaw No. 9344) Yeah, I’m a cheeky one at the best of times!