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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  1. I ran to safeway a few moments ago, I mean, I know it sux but it is open late. I was standing in line behind a big guy, I heard him counting out change for his purchase, I turned my back in case he didn’t want to be watched. I figured him to be hurtin’ financialy. He made his purchase then told the check out lady who was chatting to him that he had 14 cents till his next disability check. He said on the plus side he had lost 50 lbs from going without food.

    All these ngo’s didn’t use to be around a decade ago. Now, as I have mentioned before, people on any kind of assistance get the equivalent of one less check a year, by moving check dates around. My guess is that money is going to pay Harsha’s salary, and the other useless ngos in town. And the poor dude on disability, getting one less check a year at the same pay rate as 20 years ago, is trying to figure out how he is going to eat till his next check on 14 cents. Creeps!

  2. Stories like this make me want to cry. It’s time to make some serious changes in how the DTES is run…

  3. yes very sad and disappointing, well lets hope he loses weight then runs over to a British properties and kills some bank executives. Many years ago the closed all the mental hospitals and now most of them are living on the street self medicating. Essentially outlawing and criminalizing mental illness of which is all a symptom of our sick society.

    Inflation is created when the ruling elites need to finance something they just print some extra money buy some jets maybe some missiles. If you want to stop this then don’t work for them work for yourself start in your garden and let sick homeless people eat for free.

  4. There has been a transfer of money. The ministry moved check issue dates around, taking the amount equal to one check a year away from people on disability or any kind of assistance. It appears that money has been moved to instead go into the pockets of the poverty pimps on the dtes. This means the tax payer doesn’t pay less money to support the poor or disabled, it would be interesting to find out how much these ngo’s cost on a yearly basis, instead the money hjas moved into the pockets of the poverty pimps.

    There was an article recently in the Vancouver Courier, announcing more demands from ngo’s to the government, wanting thousands of dollars to give tours to children from Kits to the dtes, have barbeques to further talk about the poverty on the dtes, etc, but not one mention of the people on the dtes getting one less check a year, while being given the same amount per check as they received 20 years ago. This means a person on disability has had no cost of living increase, plus one check a year is witheld. Now I am understanding more clearly why I see people in chairs or severe burn victims begging on the street.

    Do the poverty pimps mention this? Nope. Never. I have a close friend who worked in the dtes, she quit and went back to agriculture, telling me, ‘No one gets help, no one’ she exclaimed to me with disgust ‘but we all got our pay checks!’

    An acquaintance, someone I knew a retail employee on the drive I would chat to when shopping, got a part time job in the dtes. He was my check out boy at Donald’s market, and would gab to me, letting me know he was student and the check out job wasn’t his main job in life, that he was a student. It wasn’t long before he backed away from the dtes in disgust telling it was an ‘industry’, it was making him ill, he changed his direction in school. He told me he had wanted to work helping people until he was exposed to the that ‘industry’ of ‘helping’ people. Something really creepy is going on down there, cheers to Greg for starting to dig and out some of the filth.

  5. Dear Person who wrote the Article!I can tell that by this article that you’re a Big Supporter of “War on Drugs Prohibition”even though it’s been Proven OVER AND OVER THAT IT DOESN’T WORK!And it’s a waste of Billions of Dollars and a great way to Fill up the Province’s Prison Cells!!!If you went to the DTES in the 90 till 2003 when “In-site”Opened up,you’d know that the Hastings/Main area was much much Worse!You couldn’t walk 10 steps without seeing someone Shooting up and Overdosing 24/7.There used to be at least 1 Ambulance team and Fire Dept. Van was standing by at the Court House also 24/7.Overdoses down 75% plus since “In’Site opened and there are thousands of less thrown away Syringes and other Paraphernalia on the streets all over>Yes there’s still some but not nearly as much as before!Unfortunately In-site cannot be forced upon Addicts and there are some that prefer shooting up in the Alleys!That’s up to the VPD to Police it!Also there use to be at least 3-400 Crack Smokers by the Library every day unlike today!The Money for Rehab Beds are a Good idea if someone want to Quit drug abuse!Unfortunately a very large Percentage of Addicts DO NOT!So I dunno what would your Plan for them?Forced Rehab???We already have that We call it”Incarceration”and cost Billions/yr!About harm reduction you DID brought up all of the WORST CASE SCENARIOS Bravo!!But No matter what you say Harm Reduction if handled the Right way works far better than anything else we tried the past 65 yrs incl.Prohibition or Methadone Maintenance Programs!Just look at Norway,Sweden,Switzerland.Finland,Denmark,Hungary,Austria,Spain,Portugal and even BC when in 2007-09 NAOMI Program was a trial Program!The success rate was 93%unheard of any other Programs!!!Methadone Programs run about 35%success rates!Of Course there have to be Rules!Here’s a few:Ppl who want to be on a Prescribed Diamorphine(Heroin)Program must within 90 days Actively Seeking Employment or taking Employment Programs,Must NOT use any other street Drugs if do 3 strike Rule will be used,Must keep the peace and ZERO tolerance on Committing any Crime,if charged with a Crime will be asked to leave the Program!These are the BIG 3 rules there are the smaller ones!Did you know before 1929 when DiaMorphine and other Opiates and even Cocaine could be Purchased over the Counter Addictions were over 80% less than since they’re made Illegal.Just like Cigarettes or Alcohol because it’s legal doesn’t make everybody a smoker or an Alcoholic!WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING Because what we do in the past 70 yrs and especially in the past 30 yrs Definitely DOESN’T WORK!Harm Reduction Can be a GOOD THING if it is handle the right way.That’s why it should be in the hands of Medical Professionals and Drug Counsellors and not in the hands of Politicians!You know I’v been a Social Worker Specializing in Addiction for the Past 18 yrs and worked over 14 of those on the front lines of DTES.I also got the Privilege to Scandinavia(Swe,Den,Finn,Nor,Iceland)in 2000/01and to Spain and Portugal 2010 to see and work with local Addiction Services and Prescribed Diamorphine Programs!BTW all of those Nations now doing Much Better when they were using Prohibition!!!!Please trust me on that!You know by now Addiction accepted and looked at as a DISEASE!And we Incarcerating Sick ppl and Punish them for their Diseases!!!What next Kill Cancer Patients coz they’re cost too much for the Health Care Systems???Well why not!Until it happens to you or to someone you love or care for!Than you will look at it from a different Perspective!You know that Cigarette Smoking will kill 5-10 times more ppl/yr than all Drugs incl Prescription Suicides Together.Thanks Everyone who will take the Time to read my Comment even though it’s pretty long although I tried to keep it as short and Informative as I could!Please Feel Free to Reply or ask Questions Please,Please!Good Information Is very important in this subject!When SOMEONE REPLIES to my comment it WILL be sent to my Email!And I promise that I WILL answer EVERY ONE of them Thank You All Cheers!GOD BLESS YOU ALL!And Please say a Serenity Prayer for all those who suffers from this terrible disease without any Help Cheers

    • Jack Roe on June 20, 2016 at 21:43
    • Reply

    Great article.
    There’s an eerie change in what I’d call “drug policy” activism, too—where in the mid 90s, everyone online seemed pretty well agreed that prohibition was immoral, that it was a moral issue, that adults should be able to buy and use whatever drugs that they can afford, today there seems to be this “social justicey” flavor to it where opiate addicts take top billing (like women, indians, black people, etc.) and that all policy must be directed to deal with IV opiate addicts first–most drug users are not, in fact, IV opiate addicts, most drug users smoke pot, take MDMA or a party drug once in a whole or something, quite responsibly without it impacting their overall lifestyle.

    And what do these harm reduction darlings argue for? Pure doses sold in stores so that opiate addicts can inject known materials of known mass? No. They argue for “harm reduction” facilities where RNs can watch people with FAS shoot up street opiates, administer naloxone if needed. It’s just…it’s insanity. Most of the danger from opiate use is not knowing the dose you’re administering, especially for seasoned IV users. The danger is not lack of an RN, the danger is shooting god knows what—but not a peep about general legalization from most of them, it seems like some of them who have useless arts degrees want to set up a sort of professional “harm reduction” force, on the model of the DTES poverty pimps.

    Considered as a public health issue, IV opiate addicts are probably a good thing to focus on. Considered as a moral issue, the immorality of drug prohibition has far more to do with the harm it does to mature, responsible members of society, than it does with the harm it does to degenerate street IV opiate addicts. I am sick and tired of being told, as a mature, middle class person, that I have no political voice worth listening to, that nothing I want done politically matters, because here is some degenerate group that needs a group of pimps to care for it! I just want the state to leave me alone, I don’t want a nanny. Sheesh.

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