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VANCOUVER—In the fall of 2008, I lost my sister to brain cancer. Only one month later, I lost one of my lifetime friends to a heart attack. A few months after that, I lost another close friend to lung cancer. All these deaths happened in a five-month period. In March 2009, the mother of a good friend of mine passed away. Together these losses led me to decide to retire on my 60th birthday.
Because I have many health issues, I decided to try to do things that I wanted to instead of working and getting older and sicker. In April 2009, I told my boss that I would work until April 29th, my 60th birthday. I transferred my co-op shares to my daughter and grandchildren, who had recently moved back to Canada from Turkey, and they moved into my townhouse. I sold my car, paid off my debts, and made my will.
In June, I made the decision to move to a small apartment in Vancouver and apply for early CPP benefits. I also applied for BC Housing and with the help of a friend and an outreach worker at Saint James Society, I sent out about 40 to 50 housing applications to all available social housing in Vancouver. On June 20, 2009, I was called by the Neighbourhood Housing Society and interviewed for the Oasis, located at 40 East Hastings, where I moved into on July 4, 2010.
I had moved into the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
I explored the new area. I found a new doctor, who helped treat the depression that I had succumbed to. In the spring of 2009 I came to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre where I found new friends and the resources to help me apply for social assistance as a "Person With Disability." I was lucky because, since changes to provincial regulations in June 2002, approximately 16,000 women had been removed from social assistance in BC. With the help of an advocate, I was able to get coverage for a medical top-off on my CPP after it had initially been turned down. We contested the decision, and after submitting all the paperwork and a doctor’s note, I was accepted.
I joined the DTES Power of Women Group and through the group and my own experiences, I have made a number of observations about the neighborhood in which I now live.
Here in the Kingdom of Hastings and Main, unlike other neighborhoods in Vancouver, I have found that there is a very defined hierarchy in place. We have many factions and groups that compete for wealth and control of this land. It starts with “Castle City Hall” which is led by King Gregor Robertson and his cronies. King Gregor has many lords and serfs. He also has many advisors to help control and tax his subjects.
The King’s land covers many areas and territories. He carefully takes good care of the lords that live in rich areas like Point Grey, Kerrisdale, and Shaugnessey. With the help of his lords—many of whom are lawyers, real estate industrialists, and property developers—the King plans his ways to control poorer areas like our Kingdom of Hastings and Main. The King has a large army to quash any uprising or protests from us serfs. They are called the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). The King arbitrarily changes any laws that he feels are required for his army to do his bidding.
The King uses his lords and advisers to plan his strategies to increase property values to enable more taxes and larger numbers of subjects to fill coffers. He is a wise King so his lords develop and profit by these actions, and thus stay loyal to him. His lords know that the poor serfs like myself are starting to rebel because of this, so to quell our anger they have used gentrification to push out us serfs and take over our neighborhood with condominium development outpacing social housing by a rate of three-to-one.
It is bad enough that we serfs have to combat this erosion of affordable housing and services, but there are other groups that feed upon us. One such group is the money-hungry drug dealers that control our Kingdom’s pathways. This group conspires to bring further hardships upon us serfs. They get many people hooked on the poisonous goods that they offer. I have noticed that every cheque day the drug dealers are placed in front of the cashing stores and banks where the serfs cash our cheques. This group collects their pounds of flesh from the many poor that have succumbed to the lifestyle of drugs in order to overcome the hopelessness of living in poverty.
Now the King tells us that we are protected by his army (the VPD), but I believe that his army is corrupt. How else can we explain that month after month, year in and year out, I see the same evil faces continuing to exploit us? Could it be that the Kings’ soldiers are being paid off by the dealers so that they only charge the serf women that hold drugs and money for these dealers?
I often witness the VPD’s harassment of these serfs and can only wonder if the army uses this random targeting to show us their strength so we will not oppose them. I believe we must continue to resist both the actions of the VPD and the control of King Gregor and his cronies.
In closing, although I have found an enjoyable life through volunteering and the POW group that I belong to, I know of the hardship of others. I know of the poverty, drug addiction, and housing conditions, along with the abuse and homelessness that people suffer in the Downtown Eastside. I am working hard to better the conditions down here for all of us.
Charlene is a 62-year-old transgender woman who has found a wonderful retirement, a new life and great friends in the Downtown Eastside.
This story was originally published on the Vancouver Media Co-op as part of the Downtown Eastside Power of Women “In Our Own Voices” writing project. For more information and to read more stories, please visit http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/author/dtes-power-women-group
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.