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The Poorest Postal Code

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Issue: 42 Section: Photo Essay Geography: West Vancouver Topics: migration, Indigenous, poverty

January 12, 2007

The Poorest Postal Code

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in Photos

by Stefan Christoff, Sawsan Kalache

3am on East Hastings Street.

Photo: Stefan Christoff

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.

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Hastings Street Photo Essay

Hi Stefan,
My brother in law has written a song about Hastings Street and we are looking for a photo for the album of the same name. Do you have anything that would work? I would be happy to email you a copy of the song in MP3 format if it would help you choose a couple. There is one in your photo essay that may work for us, the one with the shopping cart and signs in the back ground.
Let me know what you think.



I have extensive photos of Eastside Vancouver some of which have also been published. I would be happy to work with you on this and find a photo that fits this song. You can find me here: http://www.tribesentertainment.com/TRIBES%20Magazine7.htm

Please, feel free to reply to me.

All the best.

my hometown

I love Vancouver. My mother grew up on Union Street, when Hogan's Alley was still there (remember the Black Ghetto of Vancouver? It was mowed down for the Prior Street Viaduct). My father's first job after WW2 was at the White Lunch as a dishwasher. He went on to become a well known restaurateur(he was also a German without a shred of English). We used to shop at Woodward's, and I remember the beautiful displays and the basement lunch counter. We would go to the Only Seafood restaurant and Mom and Papa would frequent the "Pat" hotel. The library at Carnegie Centre was a favorite haunt. My sis and I would shop at the jeans store at Abbott and Hastings. Years later, I went to the Ivanhoe and was appalled at the cockroaches climbing the walls. Now I only see the developers rebuilding the walls. My sister was a victim of the Gastown riots. She was also a young adult renting in Kitsilano when it was hip (not yuppie). Later, I had a great little (cheap) shop on Kingsway. Now I advise my daughter never to go to those nieghbourhoods for fear of her safety. Kim Rossmo, hired by the VPD, predicted a serial killer living in PoCo (Pickton?), but was dismissed before anything was done. Too little too late. Is there corruption in Lotus Land? See Tom Campbell and his "clean up" of our city. Remember Janet Smith? How far back does the corruption go?

Stratford on Keefer and Gore

Hello, just surfed on this posting and wonder if you might remember any of the women who worked out of the Stratford Hotel in the mid to late 70s. My mother has been missing for a long time, and I've connected to a friend of hers from back in the day who she used to work with. My mother's name is Delores Whiteman, her nickname was "Lolly" and she was native, but fair. She had a wide smile, outgoing personality. She was not known to be drug addicted or alcoholic, but did work in the sex trade (no pimp, which is why she liked the Stratford).
If you have any information, I'd sure appreciate it.
Laura Whiteman

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

I am originally from B.C. and ran into this site while googling. I like to read the newspapers online and keep up with what is happening. I haven't lived in B.C. since the Great Gordo came to power. I moved to Alberta to find more employment opportunities and have lived in Edmonton but am now residing in Fort McMurray. I just finished reading a book by Gabor Mate, the resident doctor of the Portland hotel, called "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts", which deals with some of the issues facing residents of this postal code. I lived for awhile in Edmonton and see the same things occuring albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. Drugs are everywhere no matter where you go, even up here in Fort McMurray. Moreso because of the cash available here. It is kind of disappointing to me because a lot of people, especially kids, are becoming caught up in it all. I was on the transit bus the other day and overheard some kids bragging about how much crack they had smoked and I thought to myself "Man this is the beginning of the end for you". I wonder where they will end up 5 or 10 years from now. I just saw my buddy and he got into the crack and lost everything, his house, vehicle, the 90,000 in his bank account, and not to mention his wife. now he's living on the streets of Edmonton. Anyhow, I could ramble on endlessly but will cut it short but allof these things really make me think. Ciao

best place on earth

best place on earth

Homeless in DTES

I hope that one day the homeless of the
DTES find a home with the help of others.
This situation seems to grow everyday.
I have been down to this part of Vancouver.
I never have a problem with the locals.
There is a police station right across the
street from E. Hastings & Main Streets. I
think that by labelling this area it will
never get better. More outreach workers
are needed in this neighborhood.
I wish everyone good luck this fall & winter!

concerned citizent

its just breaks my heart to see such a tragic place for my first people im a first nation myself and that is not a place for any person for that matter to be in a place like that black gehto

I work in the downtown

I work in the downtown eastside directly with the marginalized female population and only wish that more people would recognize the social injustices that affect all poor vancouverites and could take a stand against it. Our future generations will otherwise inherit this lack of social responsibility, leaving our city in a most disasterous situation.

Good items to be given away

I have many items, for home, children clothes (girls), and adult women clothes, books, toys, to be given away. I like to take them to where are really needed. Could you please tell me where and when I can deliver them?

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