Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vancouver - the madness continues

At the beginning of this year I wrote about a slum in Vancouver.

Pain and Wasting in Vancouver

Today's Globe and Mail newspaper makes it clear: The madness continues!

The madness is called Vancouver's Downtown East Side - DES - Canada's fetid slum persisting for decades. It will greet the world throughout February's Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. It's message will not be the glowing success of multi-cultural diversity in which Canada so prides itself. As the world looks to the young and shining athletes striving for medals in one of the world's best cities, it will also see the faces of the drug addicted, welfare-dependent, and depressingly poor who inhabit the streets of DES.

There have been many attempts to fix problems there, including over $1 Billion over a decade. Some successes persist, an exciting new community court, a safe injection site that succeeds in spite of federal government hostility, and others. But they are not enough.

Says Vancouver housing expert Aprodicio Laquian, the residents of other parts of the city don't seem to mind concentrating mind-numbing poverty like this as long as it doesn't infiltrate their neighborhood - NIMBYism at its worst. He also thinks the very social activists who claim to be helping are actually hindering. They oppose what they see as "gentrification" as it will de-place the poor classes for the richer classes and displace povery elsewhere.

For those who know about urban crime, it is clear both ideas are absurd. Concentrated poverty and crime never ends up concentrated. NIMBYers will always be running away.

Secondly, worrying that gentrification will displace a viable neighbourhood elsewhere assumes there is a viable neighbourhood in DES...there is not!

More than anyone, those who make a life in DES deserve better than drug dependent prostitutes, homelessness, street assaults, out of control Hep C and HIV rates, and gang murders. The prostitutes, crime victims, homeless and infected themselves deserve better.

NIMBYism, squabbling welfare agencies, incompetent policies, failed program after program. When will it end?

How can we learn from cities like Bogota, or Portland who have done so much better at tackling festering urban cancers like this?

Long time DES advocate Jim Green (a former New Yorker who remembers the poverty of the Lower East Side) describes how public policies made a bad situation worse - moving the mentally ill out of institutions onto the street, taking out single family homes, are two of the nastiest.

Says Green, "women and children are what gives strength and security to any community. A community that is overwhelmingly single males is going to be really difficult to build, to go forward. By building housing that has mothers and children reintegrating back into society, by democratizing the processes in the community - that's how we are going to move forward. Just doing that makes it a better community, makes it safer."

Vancouver's city council claims, unlike the last world exposition there a few decades ago, it will not cover up the poor nor hide them in a displaced neighborhood far away.

That is as it should be. The world should see the beast with the beauty. It should see Vancouver's shame.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. This is very interesting. Not the Canada that I am use to hearing and reading about. It would be interesting to know the demographic make-up of the individuals in DES and if their are cultural sensitive ways to address the problem.

  2. Yes you are very right. This kind of sqalour is not something common in Canada - perhaps why Vancouver does so poorly at fixing it. Then again, so many similar slums have existed in the U.S. for so many years, it's not much different here. Except, of course, for the work of SafeGrowthers like you who have been doing such an incredible job in Milwaukee.

    And are dead right when you point to culture. The DES has many ethnic groups, one of the dominant populations is First Nations people (American's call them "Indians"). There have been some excellent cultural programs to try and help. The problem seems to me to be the enormous size of the DES, with over 10,000 people clustered in a fairly small area.

    It is a vexing situation that requires self-less dedication and innovation for new ways out of the quadmire. Maybe you'd consider moving to Vancouver?


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