Monday, May 23, 2005


Underbelly News


On Tuesday, May 24, 2005, the Downtown Eastside draft housing plan will be introduced to members of city council. After council receives it for information, it will be brought before the community for input. After the community consultation, it will again be presented to council for their final approval. This will happen sometime in July.

On a number of fronts, the report is an affront to our community and will set the clock back for many of us who call the East End home. Authored by Nathan Edelson, Ben Johnson and Ann Kloppenborg, the report's recommendations make one thing clear. It is obvious that these senior social agents of the City do not understand the history of the neighborhood and it's need for rejuvenation.

Their jaundiced viewpoints include wayward claims that the Downtown Eastside has for the past century been a low income neighborhood (draft housing city staff report)and therefore this implies that our community is without culture. Talk about stigmatizing a community. With this type of backwater thinking, I question if our neighborhood will ever see its fortunes rise again. Whether our urban village ever regains it's historical strength and vibrancy yet remains unclear.

The East End of Vancouver (now known as the Downtown Eastside)was known historically for its working class traditions. It always had an abundance of culture. Many residents dined out at the affordable Lotus Hotel, took in a flick at the Lux Theatre, browsed world newspapers at International News on East Hastings, shopped at Sam's Market on Powell street(owned by former Premier Dave Barrett's father) or purchased many a good bargain at the venerable Army and Navy store. Families every Sunday, donned their Sunday best and attended one of the many places of worship in the neighborhood.

As one who grew up in the East End, I witnessed it's many strengths. We had a vibrant economic centre, jobs for people and most importantly, we welcomed all. It truly was an inclusive community. People of Chinese descent lived alongside members of the Black and Jewish communities. Urban Native people lived in the neighborhood and shared their culture and values. Traveling the streets was safe. Often you ran into your neighbors and stopped to chat. Pleasantries were always exchanged. Neighbors looked out for one another.

Yes my neighborhood had social problems but people who were down on their luck were cared for by their neighbors or the churches. These lost souls were Victims of unfortunate and reduced circumstances in life. Yet today, our community has become known as Charity Central and our once proud streets have been turned over to many low-life Victimizers. Our street-scape and community has devolved into a crapping cesspool.And as we speak, some city councillors are musing about bringing in poop stations for those shitting and pissing on our streets.

What happened to my hood?

Like many of the social agency (charities) workers down here who come from outside the area and the authors of the draft housing plan appearing the same, their general hackneyed thinking generally revolves around reinforcement of what the neighborhood has become. Hence the name Downtown Eastside. Drug use and Charity have become the main industries down here.

Its obvious that our community has for some time lacked real leadership otherwise this would not have occurred. Neglect or willful blindness from our politicians is our soup de jour... Sure we elect passionate representatives (spouting their concern on poverty issues and homelessness), but again, these rather nice people just don't quite understand our history.Perhaps this is a reflection of them also not growing up in the neighborhood. Jenny Kwan, Libby Davies or Jim Green (our current representatives)all come from outside the area so perhaps they shouldn't shoulder all the responsibility for our neighborhood's deterioration.

Some supporters of these politicos will articulate that I shouldn't fault them for the area's woes. Ok so being benevolent, I'll say this, perhaps they never visited the neighborhood when it was inhabited and dominated by working class values and traditions. Silly me how could they since they lived in other countries. I bet though if you speak to former Premier Barrett and Army and Navy heiress, Jacqui Cohen or Pappas fur owner, Ted Pappas, these people do understand the former dynamics of the East End because they worked, visited and played in the area. Most likely their parents didn't have qualms about bringing them down here as children either because it was a safe community. Ask Ms Cohen, Mr Pappas or Mr Barrett today whether they would want their young children or grandchildren coming down here and I'm certain you will get an honest and resounding NO from them.

So folks now that you have had a condensed history lesson, allow me to bring you back to the moment and raise your awareness on the god awful draft housing report.

First off, our neighborhood has a moratorium on special needs residential facilities (called SNRF's--I suspect Jim Green had a hand in this name--it even sounds horrible). The reason this moratorium is in place is because the former Mayor and council realized this community shouldn't be the only neighborhood in the city with all the social housing or special needs facilities. Yet now the draft housing report calls for the lifting of the moratorium. If this happens, our neighborhood already saddled with its disproportionate share of problems and charities, will forever become a regional magnet for all the ills of society. Hence a de facto ghetto is created.

The draft housing report instead of solely concentrating on the Downtown Eastside should expand its scope and question why other neighborhoods in the city haven't these special needs facilities or any social housing. Currently in the Downtown Eastside, 83% of housing is non-market housing and this is not healthy for the well-being of any community.

Another concern coming out of the Downtown Eastside draft housing report is consideration of small suites. Currently, the city allows no smaller than 400 sq ft rooms/suites. The housing report says area dimensions should be relaxed so that rooms can be built which are smaller than 350 and 250 sq ft. This is deplorable since it would be akin to housing people in small storage lockers. And since people are social animals, it is doubtful whether there would be room to have friends visit or perhaps have a special loved one over for the night. The city's mentality toward the well being of people in this regard is completely disrespectful, an affront and quite simply a disgrace.

While I have other concerns regarding this housing plan, I'll bring them forward in due coourse. In the meantime I'm organizing my neighbors to reject completely this draft housing report. I hope my neighbors in other parts of the city will voice their concern as well.

People of the Eastside and our City deserve way better. Creating a socially constructed ghetto as the city appears bent on doing flies in the face of what a civil society should be.

Jamie Lee Hamilton