Last year I bookmarked a page from The Province’s Operation Phoenix series that I found to be particularly authentic, and Several days ago, the link disappeared and ‘ this story was no longer available.’
To be honest, it seemed rather odd to me that this story in particular was gone, because the Operation Phoenix section still has many other stories from that series. But then again, this Opinion editorial by Chief Bill Wilson is not as flattering to the perception of positive change in the Downtown Eastside as many of the others, nor does it agree with the BC governments Propaganda Information Booth’s viewpoint that things are improving and their many initiatives are making a difference. In the downtown eastside, as with other areas in the lower mainland plagued with persistent poverty and drug addiction, perception is everything. Take Whalley for example – site of the Surrey 2010 Olympic Celebration – and Newton, to which some RCMP have remarked to me, is beginning to look like the next Downtown Eastside.
Many people think that I am anti – Olympic, but really, I’m not. It would more accurate to say that I am anti- bullshit, and the amount of bullshit that has been passed onto the people of BC leading up to these games has been far more than I find palatable.
I do think that it is important to support the athletes within the games with our spirit – many of them have worked hard blood, sweat, tears and financial sacrifice to get here, but I also think it is important that we do not try and hide the reality of what life is like in all our cities while the spotlight is on us. (In that same vein, nor should we try to hide or diminish the truth behind the horrific budget cuts and employment loss our premier and government have dealt the people of BC, within the last year, nor refuse to answer questions surrounding the amount of money being spent on this two week party for the world.)
The Downtown Eastside is as much of a reflection on who we are as British Columbians, as the effort put in by thousands of volunteers who – without their tremendous amounts of effort and time – these games would not be happening. So please, scroll down to the bottom of this New York Times post and read the Chief Bill Wilson editorial about the downtown eastside that can no longer be found anywhere on the internet, except for the one location I did manage to find it still in existence in a cached form. While I may not agree with everything Bill says, I do think he touches on the most important reasons this poverty and addiction still persists in the DTES- it’s all a huge industry with no product.
Thanks to my lovely and well-read daughter for finding and sending me this timely little story featured in the New York Times! Yes, I know I’m a little behind, but I’m into a big story, and many of my readers are across Canada and the rest of the world and might find this fun. ( I guess that tuition bill is going to good use after all! ) Notice how the lovely little propaganda booth didn’t escape any notice, and the mention of coverage in other international papers. Here are excerpts from…
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — In this urban oasis widely considered one of the most livable places in the world, the Downtown Eastside is about 15 square blocks of something else.
At the corner of Main and Hastings, residents of the poorest postal code in Canada passed a recent Tuesday afternoon. One man lighted a crack pipe, inhaling deeply. Another urinated on a wall. Another burned a book of matches, muttering at the flame. Two men started fighting. One brandished a bicycle seat, the other a salad that spilled onto the sidewalk.
“All that over drugs,” a passer-by said. “Welcome to the Downtown Eastside.”
That scene unfolded five blocks from the site of the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics, scheduled for next Friday, and a five-minute drive from the athletes’ village.
By bidding for the Olympics, Vancouver invited the world to visit. Now city officials are trying to redirect the international news media spotlight from this blighted neighborhood in the shadows of the picturesque North Shore Mountains.
News accounts throughout the world have zeroed in on the striking juxtaposition of the Downtown Eastside with the Winter Games.
“North America’s festering sore of what do with its homeless and disenfranchised is crystallized in a few short blocks,” The Sunday Times of Australia wrote. The Daily News of Egypt wrote, “Just be careful not to stray too far south of Gastown into the city’s notoriously squalid and poverty-stricken notorious Downtown Eastside, where drugs and prostitution are rampant.”
In response, British Columbia and Vancouver officials opened an information center in the neighborhood, with hopes of managing the way the story is told. Fact sheets are being distributed, and journalists are urged to consider positive developments in the neighborhood.
“Someone can write a negative story by taking a picture of someone in a doorway, but we have some things to celebrate,” Rich Coleman, the minister of Housing and Social Development, told reporters last Friday.
Now, go on.
Read the rest of this telling little tale HERE: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/sports/olympics/05eastside.html?ref=todayspaper
Then read some local reaction to this that I just found here on the TYEE yesterday : http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/Olympics2010/2010/02/05/media-attention-2010-downtown-eastside/
Operation Phoenix is a year-long project by The Province, CKNW 980 and Global B.C. We hope to engage the community in seeking solutions to the issues facing our most vulnerable citizens in the Downtown Eastside.
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Operation Phoenix asked Hemas Kla-Lee-Lee-Kla (Chief Bill Wilson) what he thinks needs to be done on the Downtown Eastside
I was recently led on a “tour” of Skid Row by one of my nieces and another good friend. I was familiar with the area, having come to Vancouver to go to university in 1962, frequenting it with relatives and friends and then driving a taxi in town for five years while still at the University of B.C. The place has changed.
In the ’60s, it was not dangerous to visit. Sure, there were the drunks and those addicted to the other drugs, mostly heroin. There were the pimps and the prostitutes and poor people who were not accepted in other parts of Vancouver.
Except for the pimps, a disproportionate number of the people there were aboriginal. At least 90 per cent of those aboriginal people were in no way involved in drugs or prostitution. This remains true today, yet it is still the “white” impression that every native woman seen in the area is a hooker and every native man is a drunk, a junkie, a pimp or a pusher. Prejudice, racism and ignorance are alive and well, especially when it comes to society’s view of my people.
I have been asked many times why so many native Indian people live in the Downtown Eastside. The answer is obvious. Native Indian people have never been welcome anywhere else in Vancouver, even when they could afford it. I remember a trip I took to Vancouver with my father, mother and sister Donna in the late summer of 1950. We drove down Vancouver Island from Comox to Nanaimo in my father’s new luxury Packard car and caught the old C.P.R. ferry to Vancouver. As native Indians, we were not allowed to leave the car deck except to go up to the stern of the top deck. This I never understood, and it made me mad because I wanted to get something to eat.
We tried to register at the Hotel Vancouver, where we had a confirmed reservation. We were sent away quite abruptly with the recommendation that we would be more comfortable in the East End. We tried all of the good hotels until we ended up on the edge of Skid Row, where very early the next morning we finally found a cheap hotel that would take us, but only after my father paid in advance for the week, left a large damage deposit and had to swear that he would not have any wild drinking parties. Funny, my father never drank in his whole life.
My recent tour of Skid Row was depressing at best and extremely frustrating at worst. I must admit that, despite the good company of my two companions, I could not wait to escape the horror of the area. My frustration resulted not just from the human carnage that the new drugs have exacerbated but from the simple realization that all of the money spent there and all of the glorious plans announced have made absolutely no difference! Nuts!
Perhaps the thing that angered me most was the fact that the horror of the Skid Row area fuels a huge industry with no product, just like the Department of Indian Affairs. My friends informed me that at least $1 million is spent down there every day! How can this be, without any visible improvement? Is it because our society really does not care? Is Skid Row just the garbage dump for our living human waste? Out of sight, out of mind? And now, with the Olympics, we seem determined to push our rejected off their six-block-square human garbage dump.
The six-square-block area is very different from what it was in the ’60s. There are now “police free” zones where police do not make arrests for drug deals. Drugs and cash change hands out in the open with apparent immunity. Is this not the same thing as “legalization?”
I was informed by my niece that the zones and the injection sites, while a good idea on the surface, represent a danger to women and are starting to be shunned. Apparently men prey on women who they identify as having drugs in the zones where they are not protected by the police. Their appearance at the injection site also makes them targets. Many women actually feel safer injecting in the alleys. Madness!
My guides pointed out to me the many “service-delivery” offices and organizations in the area. I was amazed at the number, and these included only those in the six-square-block area. There apparently are five times as many more in the Downtown Eastside, all supposedly ministering to the suffering of Skid Row people. Many of these groups deal with the disproportionate number of aboriginal people there. In fact, there are more groups dealing with aboriginal people there than the number of aboriginal people I saw on my tour that day. My niece provided me with a list of groups and government agencies that numbers in the hundreds. Why so many?
I really have no idea what all of these groups do. The increased human horror makes it perfectly clear that they do very little. It is so much like the Department of Indian Affairs that it makes me want to puke. I am particularly disgusted with the multiplicity of aboriginal service groups that overlap in their mandates and compete with each other for funding to supposedly serve the same people. Has anyone heard of the “economy of scale?”
Fact is that the perpetuation of the horror is the foundation of their economy. Failure is actually the real mandate, for without it there would be no need for more money. It is with great disgust that I mention the fact that the Department of Indian Affairs budget this coming fiscal year will exceed $12 billion and yet the living conditions of my people have continued to worsen.
The sad situation on the reserves and in the Downtown Eastside has produced a lower life form known as the “welfare pimps.” They are the lawyers, consultants, social workers, healers, gurus, mystics and other so-called experts, many of them aboriginal, who have crawled out from under their rocks and thrive on the suffering of my people. They breed as cockroaches feeding on decaying flesh.
What can be done? I am not an expert on the subject, but it is patently obvious to me that drugs must be legalized and controlled by the government. We basically have this now, without the control. We must go further and take the gang profit out of all the illicit drugs. How many more shooting deaths do we have to witness on our streets before this sinks in?
Legalization is, of course, no panacea, but it would free up human resources and be a source of revenue to deal with the problems of drug abuse which are rapidly increasing under the present system and which will never go away completely.
Let me conclude by dealing with the crazy multiplicity of service groups. The suggestion has been made that a “czar” be appointed to rationalize the number of groups and agencies who purport to service the needs of people in the Downtown Eastside. Provided the czar was given the proper mandate and support, I would agree.
An independent Downtown Eastside aboriginal czar is also necessary. His or her specific task would be to evaluate the work of all the aboriginal groups based on success, not failure. He/she would be given a mandate of no longer than a year to do the work based on a commitment by government that the funding would be allocated in accordance with the findings. Recommendations about the rationalization, streamlining and efficiency of service delivery would have to be enforced.
There is no need for all the groups and agencies to be stumbling over each other and scrapping about the funding, all trying to service the same people. This would not be an attempt to save money. Rather, it would be an exercise in making proper use of the present funding and actually making a difference in the horror that is Skid Row and the depression that is the Downtown Eastside.
Obviously, this individual could not come from any of the groups or agencies presently working in the area. He/she would have to be a strong, independent person who could get things done without relying on committees or other time-wasters. No usual bureaucracy or “representative” political body would be necessary. This would be one aboriginal person with a clearly defined mandate and sufficient funding to get the job done in a year or less.
Consultation with the community would be required, but the major job would be to examine all the aboriginal groups on the basis of successful service delivery and make funding decisions in accordance with the proof of concrete, positive results. No positive results, no more money.
Hemas Kla-Lee-Lee-Kla (Chief Bill Wilson, BA, LLB) is a B.C. native leader with 50 years of service in aboriginal politics across Canada. He is most proud of the fact he helped to draft and successfully argued for the entrenchment of aboriginal title and treaty rights as the first amendment to Canada’s new constitution in March of 1983.
*** one of the most telling comments below that post is this one :
Very well stated regarding the numerous fiefdoms suppling “services” to those in need. I personally do not know any person , who as a child dreamed of living in the downtown eastside. Responsible service providers know that the existing system serves the the executive directors needs first, then their organization and finally the “client”.Has been like that for years, and all levels of government know it too. It is time to revamp the services, move many of them out of the downtown eastside , almalgamate these non-profits, to reduce administration, and increase services to “clients”. All levels of government should take a time out from charging each other for having the resposibility to those people and streamline their funding streams so that there can be a continuim of services. It is time to seriously understand that many of the people in the downdown eastside suffer from multiple issues which have created mental health issues for the “client-base” down there. I am from the Coast Salish Nation, living in the urban enviroment, and as a rule do not believe in the welfare economy and culture that has kept our people down. We certainly have to take responsibility for assisting ourselves and family, and government has a responsibility to work with us. The real issue, is there the politcal willingness to do so? At any rate good on Operation Phoenix for interviewing Chief Bill Wilson, he has done more for off reserve Aboriginal People than anyone in the history of this province.