Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: The Status Quo Is An Act Of Murder…


DTES Harm Reduction In-Action


One of the reasons I’m so passionate about what is happening in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) is because of how horrified I was to see it when I moved back to Vancouver six years ago. The city has always had its problems- but, they weren’t nearly as bad when I left back in the 80’s. Today, it looks like a zombie movie.

Maintaining the status-quo in the DTES is an act of murder…

I knew something was wrong back when I arrived, but I had no idea what the root causes were. Yes, of course, the drugs and alcohol are an issue- but, it wasn’t until I got involved with Occupy Vancouver that I got an inside view on what was really happening. OV was like a microcosm of the DTES, and many of the people involved were DTES residents, or were employed in the poverty industry.

My first view into the core of the problem was the day after OV had its first overdose. I spent hours desperately trying to get someone to give outreach to the camp’s addicts- contacting Mayor Robertson’s office, and a number of agencies looking for help. Eventually, I got a commitment from INSITE that they would send someone.

That day I also got into a very heated debate with other Occupiers about what we should do about our drug problem. It was my suggestion that we take advantage of the city’s offer to give the addicts beds in rehab facilities. I can’t tell you how surprised I was to see all of the resistance I got from people against this idea.

This is where I had my first experience with the debate on ‘harm reduction’. It was the DTES worker’s insistence that we introduce a harm reduction policy, and allow people to take drugs on the premise. And, rather than get into a logical debate about the issue, they decided it was a better idea to call me racist and classist for insisting we send people out of the camp to get help.

They got their way and pushed-through a harm reduction policy. Well, it wasn’t much of a policy- all it said was that people should be allowed to take drugs, and that we would provide ‘safe’ drug taking materials for them to use in the medical tent. INSITE never provided the outreach they promised to, and the harm reduction policy failed miserably.

The next day an unfortunate young woman died in one of the tents…

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If you have been following what’s happening in the DTES, it will. People are dying there every day because of the current policy of harm reduction. And, any time someone tries to stand-up and suggest change, they are also subject to character assassinations and spitting words of hate. Why is this happening?

I began to understand this behaviour after attending Harsha Walia’s first two Occupy Condo’s protests. This was the beginning of the fight against the Sequel 138 development- an issue that has become a major point of contention in the community now.

I’ll never forget watching Harsha conducting the DTES residents while they chanted to “keep the middle class out of our neighbourhood!” It totally blew my mind to watch this- this sort of divisiveness was as offensive as if I watched people in Kitsilano chanting not to allow lower-income housing in their part of town. Harsha, a Marxist/Trotskyist was actively working to incite a class war!

Later, a wise person who has years of experience in the DTES said to me that what they were doing is building walls to trap people inside the misery…

I never understood this until I dug deeper into learning about the poverty industry. But, the more one looks into the problems of the DTES, the more evident this becomes. And, the division isn’t only being constructed between the rich and the poor- it is also being built between the police and the area’s residents.

Harsha Walia’s Anti-Poverty Committee

The first example I saw was with the antics of Harsha Walia’s Anarchists and militant Anti-Poverty Committee- people who march around like banshees yelling out obscenities like ‘f#@k the police’. Then, there are the DTES publications like the Media Co-op who produce videos, online postings and newsletters ingraining in the community’s mind that all police are bad people. Then, I discovered David Eby and the PIVOT legal society, publishing incendiary documents like “Sue The Police”.

And, now, we have Vancouver Cop Watch out there harassing the police and posting ugly messages about them on Twitter and Facebook. Meanwhile, they are hounding and chastising the Odd Squad for filming incidents in a similar manner. The walls they are building are only social, and not physical- but, at times, they make the Berlin wall look tame.

Why is this happening?

The answer to this is complex, but there are a few clear explanations. And, surprisingly, the barriers to solving the problem are less as a result of the people in-need, as they are of the people who suggest they are there to help them.  As with any industry, they have two key motivations.

Elizabeth May campaigning in the DTES

1.) Political Power

If you listen to the people who are working in the DTES, they will most likely distil the problem due to PM Harper being in power. And, while he is a great scapegoat (I don’t like him much myself), this line of thinking is horribly misguided. The real political problem behind the DTES is that of the politicians (and wannabes) who say that they are there to help. The vast majority of these people lean towards the side of the NDP.

Way too many people use the poverty industry as a stepping-stone into politics. Obvious examples include David Eby, Jim Green, Libby Davies and wannabes like Harsha Wallia and Ivan Drury. Even Gregor Robertson went into the mayoral race because he wanted to work on homelessness.

There seem to be two factions of people in the DTES- those who side with VISION (e.g. David Eby’s crowd) , and those who side with COPE (e.g. Sean Antrim’s crowd). On the surface, they appear to be working together- but, they are always fighting each other for petty little bits of power. They can’t help themselves. Then, there are people from the more radical elements of the NDP Socialist Caucus like Harsha Walia who are pushing for their Marxist agendas.

Unfortunately, with all of their infighting, they seem to have forgotten about the needs of the people who need their help. Or, perhaps it is better for them that way…

2.) Money

Vancouver didn’t invent the phrase ‘poverty pimp’ for nothing. Supporting the people in the DTES has become a billion dollar industry, and many people are competing for those dollars. The result is that there are multiple non-profits who are using as much energy to fight each other for funding as they are for actually supporting the people they get paid to help.

Money corrupts, and the greed of the people who are supporting the people of the DTES is corrupting them to death. People who lead these agencies are getting six-figure salaries. The armies of workers who support them are union employees who are paid strong salaries and high-levels of benefits that the people of the DTES could only dream of. Is it any wonder they aren’t motivated to help them escape from this misery? That would be like McDonalds discouraging people from eating unhealthy food!

Yes, there are a few genuine people working out there in the DTES- people whose hearts are so big they have dedicated their lives to helping the victims of the poverty industry. But, for each of them, there seems to be two others who are either so bitter they lost hope, or who are sarcastically riding off the backs of the downtrodden.

Harm Reduction is only causing more harm…

But, all too often, the good people who offer suggestions on on how to make improvements are crushed by those who are profiting off of the misery. I know more than one person who have been viciously attacked for trying to implement something positive. Those who want the status-quo will do anything within their power to try and stop positive change.

And, the status-quo is an act of murder…

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