Sunday, October 03, 2004


Underbelly News
Downtown Eastside


Hi All!

Since Lorne Mayencourt spent a number of days living in the Downtown Eastside, I thought perhaps my perspective of this village should also be posted.

Many times over, I have been asked why I choose to live in one of the poorest communities in Canada. My short answer is because this is home. Its where I grew up, attended school, played with classmates, watched in awe as my parents fought alongside their other neighbours to improve our collective fortunes and livelihoods. Its a neighborhood I can't easily escape from. It has too many memories-some good-some bad.

At times though I need to escape the realities of the place I call home. Sometimes, I'll move away for a year or so, only to return. Each time I go away, only to return, I see how the everday problems of my community have exacerbated. I'm not going to bore my readers with the why and how's but I will say this. As go the fortunes of the Downtown Eastside, so go the fortunes of other neighbourhood's in our city.

Today, being a Sunday, I realize how lucky compared to other lifers of the Downtown Eastside I am. Today I chose to sleep in. A luxury I do not often engage in. You see I was able to do this because I have cash in my pocket. Many of my other neighbours do not. After awakening and checking my email, I decide its time for breakfast and lunch. I head over to Quiznos on the corner for a sub sandwich. I grab a bag of Ms Vickie's chips, a peanut butter cookie and a V8 juice. My bill comes to $15.00. I do not think much about this expenditure as I know there is more money to be made. However, while eating my lunch, I begin to feel somewhat guilty as I know this isn't what many of my own neighbours can afford.

So I decide to write. And post to my blog. Here it is a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting inside my apartment at my keyboard, typing text, which I hope will be read by others.

Why is this you ask? Well its necessary for my piece of mind to share my thoughts and opinions. So hopefully, we can collectively as villages and neighbours join together and work diligently to fix the woes of my neighbourhood.

Some of you may be thinking, gee there is already so much happening down there, why should I get involved. Well the answer to this is simple. Under the grand scheme of things, we really are not much different than one another. Most of us share similar needs and desires. So it's vitally important that we also share the load when it comes to creating solutions for the betterment of all.

To start, please read me. Share my opinions with your friends and neighbours. As a lifer I want to share with you, not why the neighbourhood of the Downtown Eastside is so broken but what we can do to alleviate the pain, poverty and suffering.

No question, government has a major role to play in working to alleviate the problems down here. However, their role is small compared to the role of the people. Individuals must begin to question how, with the millions of dollars being poured into the Downtown Eastside, lives haven't been turning around.

Well, if you really need the answer, come visit the Downtown Eastside. Here you will see a neighbourhood without a proper supermarket. There is nowhere to get your shoes fixed. Want to rent a video or DVD, think again. Not one video store in this neighborhood. Perhaps, you might want to read a book. Again, there isn't a bookstore or magazine store in the vicinity. What there is plenty of is charity. Heapings full.

Is it any wonder, that Downtown Eastsiders need intervention.

Sadly, though the interventionists who grace the neighbourhood, often exploit the poor or marginalized. I won't mention names, but I will express my feelings as to who I think are the good groups down here, doing good deeds.

Ray-Cam Centre, is truly the heart of the Downtown Eastside. Whether it was residents there, fighting for an overpass so children living at Raymur, could safely go to school to operating the first co-operative food store, residents of Raymur/Stamps place have made their mark on the Downtown Eastside. Even today, children of this housing complex can use computers, be coached in sports or be given a helping hand with a caring start in life. Ray-Cam needs to continue to be funded. It truly is the heart of the neighbourhood.

Another strong facility in the Downtown Eastside is the Vancouver Native Health Society. Even the most marginalized can access medical care at this busy walk-in clinic. Many Downtown Eastsiders can also access the Portland Dental clinic and have their teeth taken care of. Being able to smile is one of life's greatest joys, but until the Dental clinic came along, many of my neighbours were shy about sharing a smile. Imaging something as simple as a smile. Kudo's to this clinic for caring and putting a smile back into people's lives.

Now that the physical health needs of the Downtown Eastside are being met, what can we do about jobs and hopes. Well there is one program being offerred in the community. Its called Tradeworks. This program offers a variety of job skills training. It is a vital component of our neighbourhood. If you ever have the time, check it out.

Two worthy programs which come to mind that serve marginalized members of this community are DEYAS and the Portland Hotel society. No question, there are many individuals with drug addiction needs and mental health issues and these two organizations, when put to the test, meet the test.

Of course, citizenry of this community, often have run-ins with the law. PIVOT legal society serves up doses of justice and I often compare them to former Premier' Mike Harcourt's storefront legal practise, which assisted downtowntown eastsiders in trouble. Another individual who has recently added his voice and expertise to my neighbourhood is former police complaints commissioner, Don Morrison. The Don Morrison law office has the knowledge, compassion and passion to assist in shaping a better and healthier Downtown Eastside.

Ok so there is some other worthy oganizations in the neighbourhood, however if they are not working co-opertatively with other organizations, than one must question how useful they are. An organization that is working to bring the various organizations under one lobbying umbrella is NEVCO. This umbrella group, has the potential to influence positive outcomes for the residents of the neighbourhood. I am happy to endorse them.

So back to improving the fortunes of my neighbourhood. My viewpoints on this is to take all the money that goes into duplicated services and not very effective programming and start an intitiative called the Green fund. Green being the colour of money, I think could go a long way into stabilizing and improving lives. Have NEVCO take an inventory of neighbourhood needs. Place money in the hands of those who truly need a hand up. Perhaps, small business loans from this Green fund could assist capable individuals start up businesses in the Downtown Eastside. These small business enterprizes can put people in the neighbourhood back to work. Put money in their pockets.

Imagine , instead of continually relying on charity, being able to rely on your own abilities. Becoming self sufficient is the key to opening the doors to the world. Unlocking the vicious poverty cycle and setting oneself free is the ultimate in building self-esteen and self-worth. Imagine being able to pay your own rent or bills, having enough money to purchase your own groceries, imagine being able to occassionally treat yourself to a movie or night out.

To start the ball rolling, there must be some accountability built into the Vancouver agreement. The Vancouver agreement in my opinion, hasn't proven to be sustainable. Too often, programs have been unsuccessful. Lives of Downtown Eastsiders haven't turned around. The reason I suspect is the charitable nature of the various programs in the Downtown Eastside. Lack of political accountability of the Vancouver agreement is a major stumbling block.

Its really time to get on with implementing building blocks for Downtown Eastsiders. Its time to push aside lost hopes and dreams. Bringing back prosperity to people's lives is the answer.

And as Ralph Nader has said, when social justice prevails, charity is unecessary. Lets work toward that ideal!

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361