I work a couple blocks away from one of the nastiest parts of my beloved city, Vancouver, Canada. It’s like a whole other world when you stumble into the Downtown East Side, just two blocks east of my office, a place that held, in the early ‘90s, the highest urban rate of AIDS and HIV infection on the globe.
People like me who’ve lived in this city our whole lives know more about the disenfranchised in that area, and I have my own speculations on how it’s gotten so out of hand, but I’ve never looked into it all that much.
Suffice to say that at that two-block point east of here, it’s like an invisible wall has gone up. People sleep on streets, heroin is shot in alleys, fights break out over drugs, and everything’s out of control.
This area houses most of the prostitution and all of the meth and heroin junkies in the city. The mentally ill who are deinstitutionalized run rampant in this hood, and I’m faced daily with heartbreak and hopelessness when I see how much work is left to be done to help all these impoverished, seemingly forgotten members of our city.
We’re beginning to get a reputation internationally for what’s largely gone unchecked in this city, and that saddens me, considering all else this city has to offer — the natural beauty, the unforgettable cuisine, the multicultural population, the sports, and more. What the world doesn’t see and doesn’t seem to understand is how stacked against success the odds really are in dealing with this travesty.
This city is a magnet for the nation’s homeless — even for America’s homeless. They all want to be here because the climate is so tolerable year-round and because the cops tend to empathize rather than penalize these impoverished people. After all, if you’re homeless, where would you rather be in the winter, the snows of Toronto and Montreal, where it can go far below freezing every winter, or in the temperate climes of Vancouver?
Add to that the fact that so many drugs land here in Vancouver, where an average of 150 million massive cargo freights pass through annually, where we barely have the staff to search them, and where drug laws are so much more relaxed than in America, and you have a ticking time bomb that no easy solutions will patch.
The world’s about to hear more regarding this harrowing part of Vancouver, though, with the release of a controversial new “fictional” horror film by Australian filmmakers that focuses on one of the most legendary bastards ever to live in this province. Robert “Willie” Pickton is facing trial for the brutal murders of 26 Vancouver-area prostitutes, but is suspected of killing more than 125 of these women over the course of 20 years. A pig farmer by trade, Pickton covered his ass well by having his pigs devour the corpses of these women. As a result, little DNA evidence was recovered by what was the largest criminal investigation in Canadian history.
I’m saddened by the news that the families of these missing and dead women will have to endure a film that will probably sensationalize these brutal murders. And while I’m further saddened by the continuing downward spiral of this incredible city’s reputation, perhaps international attention will finally convince both the British Columbian and Canadian governments that this absolutely is NOT a problem that can be solved by Vancouver’s government alone. Our cops are stretched as thin as cellophane and there’s no money to be had.
In less than four years, the world will be on our doorsteps when the 2010 Olympics unveil. And what will have happened to the disenfranchised and forgotten by then? God only knows, but many, including myself, suspect they’ll be shifted out of the downtown core, pushed off to the side just to become some other neighbourhood’s problem. Out of sight, out of mind, and, possibly, out of hope.