January 12, 2007
The Poorest Postal Code
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in Photos
The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is the poorest postal code in Canada. Its streets are a transitional home for thousands. As a district renowned for police violence, drug addition and sex work, the Downtown Eastside maintains the highest HIV infection rate in North America, affecting 30 per cent of the local population, mainly women. The homeless population continues to grow, with an estimated 2000 homeless people, a population that has doubled since 2002.
A disproportionate segment of the Downtown Eastside is indigenous. According to the Pivot Legal Society, 30 per cent of the residents are indigenous, a rate 10 times higher than the national average. Indigenous women experience horrific violence in the district; according to CBC Vancouver more than 60 women have disappeared from the neighborhood in the past decade.
As Vancouver undergoes an economic boom in the lead-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Downtown Eastside remains a consistent reminder of the social and human realities of urban poverty. Driven by Olympic development, the forces of gentrification have gathered a full head of steam. Recently, many low-income hotels in the area, which effectively serve as low-income housing units, have been demolished for the development of high-scale development projects. The historic Woodwards building, located in the heart of the district, was recently demolished for condominium development. In 2002, housing activists and squatters had opened up the building as a squat, and demanded that the government build social housing and additional homeless shelters in the area.
A long-standing tradition of social activism remains rooted in the Downtown Eastside. Numerous anti-poverty and housing-rights organizations, including the Anti-Poverty Committee [APC] and the Downtown Eastside Residents Association [DERA] maintain strong political campaigns in defense of residents' rights. In recent months, multiple demonstrations against poverty, demands for low-income housing and a squat action have been organized in the district.
The intersection of Main Street and East Hastings, the heart of the Downtown Eastside and the busiest corner of the district. It has been referred to as an "open-air market" for drugs. 24 hours a day, the intersection of Main and East Hastings is alive with residents of the Downtown Eastside.
A Vancouver city bus rushing down East Hastings Street, where many cheap hotels and hostels continue to service the poverty-stricken neighborhood's population. In recent months, many of the districts cheap hotels have been demolished in a process of gentrification, making way for urban "revitalization" projects sponsored by the City of Vancouver.
A snap-shot of East Hastings Street on New Year's Day, 2007. Many local residents sell random items--appliances, cigarettes, trinkets and clothes--to supplement their income.
Bright blue mattresses rot in a Downtown Eastside ally.
An ally glowing at night in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Needles line the pavement on back streets where many neighborhood residents spend their nights. According to Pivot Legal Society, there are approximately 5000 injection drug users living in the 10 city blocks that make up Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Roger Guerrier, a resident of the Downtown Eastside, outside of a low-rent hotel. Guerrier has lived on the streets since dropping out of high-school when he was 15 years old. Prior to having his photo taken, Guerrier spoke of intense police violence directed against homeless and poor residents of the Downtown Eastside.
View of East Hastings Street at night in late 2006. Recent estimates put the number of homeless in the neighborhood in the thousands.
A resident of the Downtown Eastside, standing beside the Carnegie Community Center in the region. Homeless for many years, she spoke of the vital importance of local services to those living in the area. Solidarity between members of the neighborhood is extremely important for politically active residents.
This abandoned building on East Hasting Street was recently reclaimed by homeless residents of the Downtown Eastside in a housing rights action organized by the Anti-Poverty Committee. Posters pasted on the façade of the building depict the local struggle for the homeless and housing rights.
A current construction site in the Downtown Eastside, which will be the home of a future high-rent condominium complex. Lights shine from the wall of a recently condemned building, formerly a low income hotel run by the Hell's Angels in Vancouver.
A construction site in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. Formerly the location of Vancouver’s famed Woodwards building, squatted by housing rights activists in 2002. The development is a subject of intense municipal debate within Vancouver. Downtown Eastside residents argue for the current development to include a high percentage of social housing units. Developers are pushing for the majority of the development to become high income condominium dwellings. Local activists pin-point the former Woodwards building as the prime example of the City of Vancouver’s gentrification efforts which exclude the local population of the Downtown Eastside.
A demolition site in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Recently, multiple district buildings of the district were destroyed and many others will soon face a similar fate. In a process of gentrification, defined as "revitalization" by the City of Vancouver, many local residents have been forced from their homes on to the street.
View the original gallery at CMAQ.net.