Friday, August 27, 2004


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


Some of you may not know the Marr hotel. Its now a run down, non descript hotel, located at the corner of Powell and Dunlevy streets on the edge of what was formerly known as Japanese town. The Marr sits forlornly across the street from Oppenheimer park, whose historical name is the Powell Street Grounds. These Grounds have historical importance to Vancouver as this was the location of the first interment camp which hoarded Japanese Canadian citizens. Moreover, the Grounds hosted most of the organized political rallies of the 1930's. In fact, the unemployed of the city, in large number, often gathered here to voice their demands.

The area, once home to many retired fisherman, longshoremen, loggers and construction workers, has evolved into what is now referred to as Cracktown or the Ghetto. The politically correct call it the Downtown Eastside. Others call the neighborhood, Oldtown. Drug traffickers and mis-users inhabit the area and live in the run-down hotels nearby. The Marr, once was popular for its Girlie shows, where peeler's practised the art of bump and grind. The guests of the Marr quietly enjoyed a beer and watched as the glamour girls lifted their sad spirits.

The City became concerned over what it considered to be lewd behavior and, hence, the Marr was instructed to reform its ways or risk being shut down. Consequently, the Marr evolved into the living room of the many lower income citizens of the city. Upstairs, poor individuals on fixed income reside in the shabby modest rooms which they call home. Well at least home, until the end of October when these 30 or so individuals will be turfed out into the cold.

So why is the Marr been singled out for closure? Especially by City Councilor Jim Green. Mr Green, is best known for his tenancity in bringing forward the plight of Vancouver's Expo evictees.

In 1986, in order to make room for the world's largest fair, many speculators and developers sniffed huge profit potential. As many of the area's poorer citizens were being thrust into homelessness, Councilor Green sprang into action, defending the human rights of the poor, building a stellar reputation along the way, by standing up for the area's underdogs against the capital seeking outsiders.

In this battle against what were considered greedy capitalists, these welfare capitalists, who derived their profits from housing people on welfare and pensions, sensed bigger profit could be made by converting their single room occupancy hotels into tourist accommodations. In order to accomplish this, first they needed to get rid of their longtime tenants. Guess who won and lost?

Jim Green lobbied heavily for citizens of the inner city to be protected. He didn't win this battle as his efforts fell on deaf ears. Sadly, the Expo evictions piled up. Jim Green went on national television night after night, informing the public of what was happening to these poor evictees. The public embraced this man as a Community Hero and later on he would be rewarded for his tireless efforts.

It seems strange that this Councilor who stood side by side with the poor would now be turning his back on them. Worse he appear to be Crapping on them.

Well how is this you ask?

For starters Jim Green elected in 2002 to City Council, was rewarded namely on his reputation, of fighting for the poor. In fact he placed very high in the election. Councilor Green came 2nd among a field of 10 Councillors elected. Not bad for a Downtown Eastsider, who must be elected by a City wide vote. To insiders of the Downtown Eastside, this wasn't surprising, considering , the following Mr Green cultivated, especially among affluent West-siders for his seemingly heroic efforts in defending the rights of the poor.

Yet now, under the direction and supervision of Councilor Jim Green, the police are targeting a few Downtown Eastside hotels for business violations. Mr Green in particular, has been viewed recently in the media, articulating a law and order approach to the social and complex issues of drug and poverty problems in the Downtown Eastside.

So what is happening at the Marr that soon will result in about 40 citizens being evicted?

Well according to police and Jim Green, the Marr hotel has been running a shoddy operation. The operators have apparently turned a blind eye to the goings on in the hotel bar. According to Councilor Green who was on CTV television August 26th, referring to a folder he has of numerous violations and reports from Vancouver City Police and City Health inspectors, showing apparently illegal activities at the Marr.

If what Councilor Green and the City Police claim is ultimately true, and the selling of stolen goods or trafficking of drugs, as we know is a no no, however, a looming question lurks. Has there been any charges laid against these hawkers and operators of the Marr?

To the best of my knowledge there hasn't. And if there hasn't, it appears that Mr Green and the City Police are dis-honoring our laws, by acting on allegations rather than criminal culpability. As far as I know, ultimately criminality is left up to the courts to decide.

Embarking on a course of action, by evicting possible law abiding citizens at the Marr, is really suspect. Should law abiding poor citizens of the Marr be evicted because of the bad actions of a few?

The alleged, unlawful actions of a few, selling goods in the bar of the Marr, also needs to be put into proper context. As we know there is a widespread underground economy necessitated by need, happening with-in the traditional Downtown Eastside underground.

Well what exactly does this mean, you ask Mr Green?

Well it means that when you have nothing else to lose, you make poor choices. Whether these desperate acts constitute criminal behavior is debatable. Whether it means shutting down homes of poor people, as you want, to correct the alleged associated problems is questionable.

Actually, it seems to me that if we treat our 4,000 or 5,000 drug mis-users in the inner city, with humane doses of dignity, detox, treatment, jobs and hope, the appropriate fix for the area's woes may than present itself.

In the meantime, to minimize the impacts of the underground economy, there is lots the City and police should be doing. The city, through the Vancouver Agreement can rally for treatment programs for addicted individuals. Again, another area in which the City can play an instrumental role is lobbying higher levels of government for increased housing funds. Options for affordable housing must include an appropriate tent city modeled after the successful Dignity Village of Portland.

While tent cities should never be constructed as permanent housing, they nevertheless should be viewed as shorter term solutions to the lack of affordable housing in our city.

City funded Soup kitchens, need to be started in our Community centres and Parks. This will ensure the poor are being fed a nourishing sustaining meal.

Another bold measure of compassion would be for the City to establish a Green fund so the children in our neighborhood and community have a fair start in life. This fund could be overseen by the non partisan Vancouver Foundation. For example, its purposes could be earmarked for the purchasing of necessary school items for children in our community.

Finally, the Police and City need to spend their resources and time and go after the real criminals in our Society. These are the parasites that feed off the poor, marginalized, destitute and downtrodden of our society.

Yes councilor Green they even include politicians who turn their back on the poor. Worse these leaders wayward ways of treating the poor as criminals must stop.

Perhaps Councilor Green you could lead the way, by reforming your about face ways. As long-time City Councilor Harry Rankin used to say, there is a difference between law and order vs law and people. Perhaps Councilor Green you're not to proud to learn from Mr Rankin's shining example!

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361