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Submitted by: Kelly Schulz Box Number: #132
Professor JoostPikkert Applied Cultural Anthropology A paper presented in partial fulfillment Of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts Vanguard College November 17, 2009
and the role of the community. crime-infested eyesore that should be eliminated from the city. British Columbia. Most of the visitors that travel through this area would describe it as a dark. I first became interested in this area when I went to the DTES for 10 days in October 2007 on a short-term mission trip. sex trade. These words. On that trip I was involved in volunteer work for many different organizations geared to providing assistance for the people of the DTES. the role of the aid-based organization. So from the moment we hopped on to the 16-hour bus ride. True community. the role poverty. Alberta with only nine dollars in my pocket and the dirty. I had the chance to return to the DTES in October 2009 for an additional 10 days. I also spent a lot of time simply walking the streets and talking to people about what life was like and how they managed to survive the cold brutality of those streets. and violent crime. in deed. homelessness. along with several others. This area is commonly noted for its high levels of poverty. The DTES (downtown eastside) is the poorest postal zone in all of North America. 1 .Beauty.Photo by Mel Manu ©2007 to the area located around the intersection of Hastings and Main in Vancouver. I was able to spend a few days in the DTES and live as much as an insider that was possible for those few days. drug use. baggy clothes on my back. we attempted to do as much as we could to fit in to the lifestyle that awaited us in downtown Vancouver. These are words that most people would never use to describe the downtown eastside of the coastal city of Vancouver. I embarked on my journey to Vancouver¶s DTES from Edmonton. This report is divided into five sections based on the roles of the primary institutions and cultural systems that are the most prominent in the DTES: the role of drugs. Love. I. Family. refer The Downtown Eastside Vancouver Figure 1 . the role of the police. wanted to see what life in the DTES was like from the inside. The purpose of this paper is to take my experiences in Vancouver and formulate them into an ethnographic analysis of the homeless population in the DTES.
and/or emotional abuse as a child. Adding to this staggering number is the hospital records that diagnose one out of every two people living in the DTES as having some form of hindering mental illness. as he lifted his sleeve to show me the countless number of needle marks that went up and down his arm. Substance abuse is a problem that runs rampant within the DTES. ³why do people look down on the use of drugs when it is the same thing as the medicine that they take everyday?´ This is not an A Vancouver woman injecting a hit of heroine. It was these statistics that led me to the discovery of the role of drugs in the DTES. However. Figure 2 Photo by Christopher Morris ©2008 2 . The reported statistics state that one hundred percent of people that live in the DTES have suffered from some form of physical. sexual. he is part of a rare group of people known as ³functioning addicts´ because he was able to function within the social expectations of the general population even while he is high. the insider sees drugs and alcohol as the necessary evils that people need in order to survive. A person only needs to spend mere minutes standing on the corner of East Hastings Street and Main Street and can begin to name the exact prices of the various drugs being sold. The primary role of drugs in the DTES is that of a type of medicine that helps people cope with physical and emotional pain caused by traumatic experiences. he was on his tenth hit of heroine that day. He told me that people in the DTES use drugs because their bodies cannot physically function without the drugs or because their minds cannot mentally function without the drugs. one of fourteen hits that he takes each and every day. The most common reason that people told me on why they got involved in drugs was because they needed to cope with events that had occurred in their lives. Jim was addicted to heroine. He said to me. When I was talking to him.The first of these aspects is the role of drugs in life in the DTES. However. I had the opportunity to sit down with a man named Jim and talk about the role of drugs in the life of a person on East Hastings. The statisticians have yet to find a single person that has not suffered from these kinds of abuses.
Cardboard boxes provide makeshift shelters for countless individuals. and overdoses. The role of drugs in the DTES is that of much more than experiencing highs. ³I know that µrock¶ will kill me one day. The second aspect of life in the DTES that I was able to observe has to do with the role of poverty in that society. I would¶ve jumped in front of a bus a long time ago. The role of drugs in the DTES is that of personal medication that different people use to treat different illnesses. It is the poorest postal zone in North America. that can be considered a holiday. there are generally two ways that people use the cheques that A Vancouver man stands amidst piles of garbage in an alley of the DTES. Garbage litters the streets. One of the biggest monthly events. The very drugs that are killing people are the very same drugs that are keeping them alive. but if I didn¶t use it. In the minds of my friend Jim and many of the people that live in the area of East Hastings. I have had the opportunity of being in the DTES on ³welfare Wednesday´ and it is definitely a sight to be seen. The nearly 3000 homeless men and women that live in this area can be seen attempting to survive the elements at all hours of the day.´ The person who told me this was a woman no more than thirty years old. drugs are simply the medicines that they take in order to combat the ³sicknesses´ in their lives. Poverty is something that cannot be ignored in the DTES. etc. and it is obvious why. She described her addiction to crack cocaine as the substance that got her through the day and yet she also knew that this substance would one day take her life. disability. Another interesting comment that came my way was this one. This paradox is commonly frequented throughout the DTES. the government hands out cheques to every person on welfare. social assistance. Based on what I have seen and what people have told me. Figure 3 Clean Streets ©2007 are given to them. Many people take their cheques and 3 . is what people call ³welfare Wednesday. The reality of poverty is something that cannot be ignored in the DTES.observation that most outsiders would make when they look at the extensive drug trade that exists in that place. lows.´ On the last Wednesday of every month.
The role of poverty in the DTES is something that cannot be ignored because even the biggest days of the year center on the ever-present reality of poverty. Figure 4 Photo by Chris Lee ©2006 4 . Nevertheless.´ This day is marked by many emotions. most of these people are unemployed and it is nearly impossible for these cheques to last them through the entire month. They stereotype us and make decisions that they think are best for us. from a night in a 5 star hotel to a box of Chinese fireworks.´ This interesting observation is very foreign to the outsider. Therefore. A person said to me. A person described this event to me as. Some feel that this day is only a perpetuation of the ongoing state of poverty. This is because. The role of police in the DTES is one of the most interesting roles that can be examined when looking at the culture of the people who live in the DTES.´ The second way that people generally use their cheques is by trying to budget their cheques to last them the entire month. They buy everything from drugs to fancy dining. this day is by far the biggest day of each month. in the minds of many of the general public. The streets are filled with people all throughout the night. but they really only cause more problems. poverty is the most obvious in the days leading up to ³welfare Wednesday. In their minds. this is clearly not the case. the police force is an institution that has been put in place to put a stop to the problems in our lives. ³The µsixes¶ (code word for police) don¶t understand us. However. Others feel that this day is the only hope that they have. While others feel that this day is the greatest party of the entire month.spend it within a 24-hour period. Every single person that I have talked to share a similar perspective on how they feel about the massive Vancouver police station that is located in the heart of the DTES. These people have told me that the only thing the police are good for is causing trouble. However. in the minds of the people that live in the DTES. perhaps even bigger than Christmas or Easter. ³our monthly shot at extravagance. the police force is nothing more than an antagonistic nuisance that meddles in things that they know Vancouver Police arrest a homeless man on suspected robbery charges.
food lines. drug rehabilitation. the result of these feelings is that the police are neither respected nor trusted. clothing banks. They seem perfectly content to contain the use of illegal drugs. The police are disrespected to the point where people will blatantly do things in front of them in order to taunt them and see how much they can get away with. they are quick to apprehend people for offences that seem trivial. A long-term tenant of the DTES once told me that one of his greatest forms of entertainment was getting his friends together and harassing the obvious undercover cops that were meant to keep an eye on what went down in the DTES. spiritual aids. This bizarre philosophy of response to criminal activity is something that has an obvious impact on the psyche of the people in the DTES who feel that they are a part of the ³games´ that the police and civil government play. One of the most interesting institutions that exist in the DTES is the hundreds of organizations that work in the area in order to provide for the people¶s basic needs.´ We soon realized that my friend was wearing a sweater that was exactly the same as one that an undercover cop had that frequented the DTES. In the course of twenty minutes some thirty different people harassed him.nothing about. three large Native American men cornered him into an alley and told him to leave before they ³took him out. both verbally and physically. This peculiar story illustrates the immense hatred the people of the DTES have for the police and the role that they play in their society. To these people. drop-in centers. to the area known as the DTES. such as jaywalking. and detox centers make up only a portion of the 5 . An interesting phenomenon that takes place within the DTES is the police¶s total ignorance of the drug trade that goes on in the area. However. At one point. Shelters. As can be expected. the police continually get in the way of their life and make no attempt to understand their situation. he was no longer harassed by anyone. The role of the police in the DTES is that of an ever-present antagonist that seems to never go away. as well as their trafficking. because they thought he was an undercover cop. safe-injection sites. This story was confirmed in my own work as I was walking in the DTES with one of my peers. needle exchanges. As soon as my friend removed the sweater.
Walking into the former sanctuary of this church is definitely a sight to be seen. This place is in sharp contrast to a place like the Union Gospel Mission.massive variety of organizations that exist within the DTES. which is a safe-injection site that provides people with the tools to use their drugs in a safe and supervised manner. which demands that people wanting to have a bed must be in line at 9:00 PM and up and out of bed by 6:00 AM. One of the most A volunteer provides assistance to a man sleeping outside the Union Gospel Mission. On average. The pews. it is clear that people appreciate these organizations just as much as they appreciate the ones that provide shelter for them on a daily basis. which is an early morning drop-in center that helps people find work through temporary jobs. This church has been transformed into a shelter that operates 23-hours a day and a food line that serves three full meals. Based on what people have said to me. the stage. which has a weekly drop-in with called ³Out of the Cold. However. Almost every person in the DTES is involved with more than one of these organizations on a daily basis. the baptismal tank. This controversial organization has significantly reduced the number of those infected with HIV/AIDS from ³dirty needles´ and its records 6 . the balcony. These organizations are completely different from the work of InSite.´ Places such as these provide opportunities for the people of the DTES to step away from their daily routine and have a warm place to sit as well as a hot meal to eat. nearly 400 people call this place home each and every night. neither of these places is taken for granted because each of them attracts a specific crowd within the DTES. These places are different still than those of Mission Possible. 365 days of the year. I have rarely heard a barrage of complaints directed at the work of the organizations that exist in this area. and the floor are filled with people that need a place to sleep. Figure 5 Photo by UGM Vancouver ©2007 appreciated of these organizations is the First United Church. Most people like this place because the rules in this place are extremely slack. In my experience in the DTES. or Tenth Avenue Alliance.
but to the insider. etc. education. It is obvious that this organization has the specific goal of harm-reduction and places value in helping people to fight their drug addiction by helping to use safely until they get into a rehab or detox program. To the outsider. Figure 6 Photo by CBC News ©2008 person without a pair of boots to come and pick them up. The final institution that will be looked at is one that cannot be easily measured or defined. The social services that are provided to the people of the DTES differ only in terms of their application from the social services that are provided to people such as myself when it comes to healthcare.show that not a single person has died while overdosed in their facility. they think of people that are alone and have no one to care for them. The role of the organization in the DTES is that of a social support system that increases the standard of living for the people of the DTES. The people of the DTES are more than grateful for this system and its existence in their lives. there are many articles of clothing lying all over the DTES. vibrant community is the only way that one can describe life of community in the DTES. When most outsiders think of people that are homeless. However. The role of the many organizations within the DTES is much more than what some antagonists would call ³a crutch. it appears to be garbage that has been thrown away. If someone has an extra pair of boots. For instance. they will leave them on the side of the road for the A snapshot of the many people that call the sanctuary of the First United Church home. There are many cultural systems in place that testify to this community. impoverished and/or addicted to drugs and alcohol.´ The role of the organization is one of a careprovider and support system that enables the people of the DTES to live their lives within the ever-present reality of poverty and substance abuse. a loving. they are clothes that people have left behind for those that truly need them. The role that community takes in the lives of the people in the DTES is arguably the most important institution that exists within this culture. For example. there is a 7 . Another example of this community is the way in which people look out for one another.
However. It does not matter if that person is intoxicated or mentally unstable. Maybe this place does not help me stop. I drink a lot. organizations. and community are everpresent realities in which each has a well carved-out role within the culture of the DTES. However. It¶s the truth.´ A person cannot live or interact within Vancouver¶s DTES without encountering all five of the primary structures and institutions that exist within the culture of the people that call this place home. I would miss them. ³Yes. rather it is as essential a part of their culture as community is to my culture. What appears to be a conglomeration of drug addicts. He had been living homeless in the DTES for over twenty years and had no intention of leaving.´ Now. police. I drink. I would never leave. poverty. Drugs. He told me. Each of these components to life in the DTES is vital to its existence and I am certain that 8 . I have seen all sorts of people come to the assistance of this one individual. Yet another example of the tremendous displays of a loving community that exists in the DTES came when I met a man name Tony. The people here are too good. it is obvious that Tony valued the community of the DTES to the extent that it took precedent over his own treatment and wellbeing. when most outsiders would look at Tony. but I would never leave. No. and homeless people is actually so much more than those broad stereotypes. they would see only one thing. the only reason that he did it was because he would not be leaving all that he loved and cared for in the DTES. the alcoholic. Tony was a man that was an extremely heavy alcoholic. The reality of the role of community within an average person¶s life in the DTES is not something that can be ignored or overlooked. I actually had the opportunity to help and to see Tony apply to a rehabilitation facility right in the DTES. In the end. It is a community of men and women that actually look out for each other and their way of life.well-loved man in the DTES that is completely blind and yet he is able to navigate his way from place to place throughout the DTES because people are sure to keep him safe and get to where he is going. alcoholics. I would argue that the role of community in the DTES is valued and cherished so much more than the role of community in my neighborhood where people find it a struggle to get beyond the ³friendly wave.
However. 9 . The reality of life in Vancouver¶s downtown east side is one that most people will never be able to understand. it does not take long to learn how this place functions. where these people get their values from. and what hope they actually take from the life that they live.the culture of the DTES exists only because each of these components exists.
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