Licia Corbella, ask anyone in Calgary where to score a cowboy hat and boots...

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Contrary to Corbella's impassioned ranting Vancouver is not "lax" or "laisez faire" when it comes to the open drug use and addiction we see in the Downtown Eastside, that's exactly why we have an internationally leading initiative like Insite, which has dramatically reduced the transmission of diseases and saved lives, vastly improving what had become a public health crisis just over a decade ago. Our city, the city's Business Improvement Areas, the Needle Exchange program and drug advocacy groups like VANDU work diligently to ensure that fewer and fewer needles can be found on our streets or alleys and in our parks. Numerous programs or social enterprises exist here to assist our addicted neighbours to detox, kick their habit, and rebuild their lives. We're working hard to grapple with this. Corbella's familiarity with Vancouver and the Downtown Eastside is skin deep, maybe as thick as the window pane of a car, which is often what people observe our community through as they briskly roll through it, assuming that a couple block stretch of street disorder and open drug dealing is the whole story. Her article also speaks to a troubling trend in the discussion we as a country are having (or not) about addiction. It's happening everywhere, not just the DTES or on reservations. If Monteith died of an overdose in Lions Bay or Point Grey, where multi-million dollar mansions abound, would she have been so quick to make the same associations and assumptions? I guess he was just close enough geographically to the DTES to make that knee jerk association. She lives in Calgary, so I have to assume she also works in the Tar Sands, right?  

People overdose in rich or middle-class neighbourhoods but addiction in the DTES is more visible in part because it is a companion symptom of poverty. Many prefer the street, open and airy, and filled with familiar faces to an un-air conditioned, bed bug and cockroach infested SRO the size of Corbella's closet. I imagine she would too if she were in the same circumstances.

Exacerbated by the absence of a national housing or anti-poverty strategy Vancouver has taken in thousands and thousands of homeless and at risk Canadians, many of whom have made the DTES their home. Some of them have dealt with addiction, some of them have gone on to build beautiful meaningful lives and relationships, some of them have done them both at the same time. A writer like Corbella may deride the Downtown Eastside as shameful and disgusting but what many of us find shameful and disgusting are privileged Canadians in Alberta and elsewhere looking down their noses at us who live and work here as we absorb the homeless and at risk who would otherwise freeze to death on their austere winter streets.

This problem is their problem too, but we're the ones dealing with it on a day to day basis. Our mild Cascadian winter is as much the draw to move here as anything, and definitely more of a draw than Insite, but as the Executive Director of the Business Improvement Area in which Insite is situated I can state uniquivocally that it is a valuable community asset. I would rather spend enegy and resources eliminating poverty than I would attacking it and the other charities and non-profits in my community that do incredible work, work that governments should be doing. But Corbella's article rings of Harper's rhetoric aimed to wipe Insite and so many of those charities off the face of the earth. 

To be clear, I am not saying that conservatives have a flawed worldview in its entirety. There are many brilliant, compassionate and insightful people that identify as conservative. Problems arise though when we project our worldviews in general terms onto local issues facing specific communities. This issue being local insofar as Insite and other initiatives or strategies employed in Vancouver are local responses put forward in the absence of a national strategy. Particularly when the answers or criticisms that our worldview advances are supported by straw man arguments, anecdotes and hyperbole, well meaning as they may be; and I am sure Corbella was well meaning in her own way.

Corbella reminds us that the DTES does have a serious challenge with our open drug trade and our rates of addiction. She also reminds us that so many of us in our privileged positions can cast judgement from afar without acknowledging that addictions of many kinds can be found in all communities, rich or poor, and also of just how far our journalistic standards have plummeted. She'll no doubt continue to double down, searching for more conjecture and anecdotal evidence to support her crusade against Vancouver and our Downtown Eastside. No one can admit to being wrong anymore in this day and age it seems. 

In all fairness we as Canadians seem to universally revel in putting down one another's cities. Vancouverites have basked in the endless schadenfreude of Toronto's Rob Ford saga as Calgarians have derided Vancouver for being an overpriced and over-progressive city that's overrun with "tree hugging hippies" and heroine addicts for years. There is a tendency to reduce our cities, otherwise complex places, to characatures of themselves. Sometimes out of fun, sometimes out of ignorance. Montreal becomes poutine and political corruption. Toronto becomes guys in suits and horrible muggy summers. Calgary, well, rednecks. Those of us who regularly visit these cities, who have friends and family there, know of course that they are all great places with much to offer. Yes, even Calgary. 

Cory Monteith didn't die because Vancouver is Vancouver---Insite, DTES and all. Perhaps Corbella saw it that way, though, because from Calgary all the moving parts that make up our city and its Downtown Eastside blur into one simple explanation, and the nuances of poverty, addiction and the strategies that Vancouver and its communities are employing to deal with them look as simple as her hypothesis suggests.  

Those mountains sure obstruct the view sometimes. 

 

 

 

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