Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pain and Wasting in Vancouver - A slum facing the 2010 Olympics

I recently attended a workshop on "community engagement" in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. One year from now the winter Olympics will be there. And while reading local media I was reminded that in the heart of Vancouver is the downtown eastside neighborhood - DES - with an infamous reputation for crime, disorder and poverty.

To most locals the DES is the Skid Row area, especially along streets Main and Hastings - what locals call Pain and Wastings.

It's not that Canada doesn't have slums. It's more like this is probably the worst. Stats back that up.

It is the poorest postal code in the country. By some accounts it has the highest HIV infection rate in North America. Thousands of homeless people, drug users, prostitutes, and rampant crime. At one point in 1998 the area averaged one death per day from drug overdoses.



What has been done?

One report claims government has spent over $300 million for housing and support in DES - about $1 million each day! Social activism is rooted here with anti-poverty, housing rights, and social groups waging campaigns and running programs of all sorts.

Over 90 agencies providing health and addiction recovery services. A community court was set up last year. Long overdue plans for redevelopment are finally underway.

The 9 year old "Vancouver Agreement", was supposed to coordinate local, provincial and federal efforts. A Vancouver paper reports a provincial politician saying that agreement has now "largely fallen by the wayside because of lack of political will." Then there is the famous "safe drug injection site" run by the government, the only one in North America.

Study after study, program after program, decade after decade.

If it wasn't so tragic, would it be too obvious to say that the same kind of thinking that got us into this mess will not get us out? It would seem to me a very different kind of imagination is required.


Click here for Lee Hamilton's excellent blog on this


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