Our Special Community

Our neighbourhood is special.

As Sandy Cameron and Terry Hunter wrote:  “The DTES community has some powerful identifiers.  One is sanctuary–the community as a place of sanctuary.  Another is that it’s a place of resistance; it’s a place that fights for social rights.  And it’s a place of radical possibilities, a place where new ideas and new alternatives arise.”

The DTES has problems but also has assets that other neighbourhoods don’t have.

Sanctuary: Why do people who are discriminated against come to the DTES?  It’s not just cheap rent.  It’s because the DTES is accepting.  It is a place of sanctuary where people who are suffering feel at home and get help.  In CCAP’s mapping and visioning people told us this over and over.  They said this acceptance was basic to their recovery from addictions.  We want this acceptance to grow here and become a model for other communities.  We don’t want our suffering people driven away from life-saving services.

Human rights: Because people in the DTES are so poor, it is a centre of the struggle for human rights that apply to people in the rest of the city and the world.  If the city supports us to replace the illegal drug market with a regulated legal one, that could be a first for the country and the world.  It’s worth fighting for.  If you listen to DTES residents, this area could be a model for establishing relations between police and low income people—a model for the rest of the country and world.  Our DTES Member of Parliament is fighting to make housing a human right.  Our Pivot Legal is starting a national red tent campaign for a national housing strategy.  Our DTES community leaders are going across the province helping others work on safe injection sites.

New ideas and alternatives:  Look at CCAP’s Action recommendations:  Residents on agency boards, peer safety patrols, residents educating police.  These are ideas that wouldn’t come from a different neighbourhood, but they are good ideas and deserve to be worked on.  Vancouver could be a model of treating its low income people as human beings, listening to them and acting on what they say, not simply pushing them out, improving façades in their neighbourhood, “diluting” them with richer people.

The importance of community for low income people has been enormously underestimated by politicians and planners.  Community includes a sense of belonging, support networks, an informal economy, and easy access to health and social services.  For low income people community also includes a link to the geographical place where all of these relationships take place.  Middle class people have access to transportation so the link to their geographical community might not be as tight.  They can travel to other physical places to meet friends, get services and support.  But people with low incomes can’t afford bus fare and cars so their local community is crucial to their well-being.

The City says it wants low income people all over the city.  Assuming that affordable housing was available all over the city, which it isn’t, pushing people out of the DTES would still be hard on the displaced people.  How would they get to their services with no affordable transportation?  If services move, how will they serve a scattered population?  How will displaced people get to family and friends for support?  Will they feel a sense of belonging or of alienation?

In Memphis, when people in public housing were scattered throughout the city because their public housing was torn down, the infant mortality rate increased.  One article suggests that the reason for this is that low income people didn’t have the same access to maternal services that they had in their old, poorer communities.