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Since when were there still massive ghettos in north america?
May 1, 2006 3:20 PM   Subscribe

SociopoliticalChatFilter: Why are the destitute down and outs in Vancouver so different to the usual class of beggar/street person I am used to in London?

I've spent the past week in Vancouver and went for a walk around Main St and Hastings the other day and was shocked by just how bad things seem to be around there. It's like walking through a movie. Literally in line of site of the basically the only police station I've seen there is a massive group of tramps smoking crack outside the Carnegie centre and nobody bats an eye lid.

I know a lot of people who work in social services both in the UK and in Canada and nobody really seems to have an answer to what makes things so much more obvious in Vancouver. The difference between rich and poor is really quite incredible and could probably be reasonably compared to places in South America.

I just want to hear people's opinions on this and any background I might be missing. I know there are systems in place to help clean these people up but they don't seem to do anything that effective from what I've heard. It's not like there isn't a huge amount of money floating around for anyone that wants to go out and get a job.
posted by public to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It's not like there isn't a huge amount of money floating around for anyone that wants to go out and get a job.

Well, actually, there isn't. Especially if you're looking for a living-wage job but have no references less than five years old because you've been shooting up and smoking up for all that time.

The unofficial policy regarding that stretch of Hastings is to keep them corralled, to provide them with shooting galleries, and to do whatever is possible to stop them from breaking into cars and homes to support their habits. The latest plan is to provide them with free drugs, but this has yet to be implemented. We generally don't arrest and imprison people for using, because all it does is get a person off the street, but it's not an efficient way to do so nor is it solve the personal problems of the individual. Instead of just being an addict, they merely become an addict in prison. Nobody wins.
posted by solid-one-love at 3:33 PM on May 1, 2006


The unofficial policy regarding that stretch of Hastings is to keep them corralled, to provide them with shooting galleries, and to do whatever is possible to stop them from breaking into cars and homes to support their habits.
I've heard the same sentiment. I've been in vancouver for around 10 years. Main & Hastings stretch has always been the "scariest" part of Vancouver. Once in a while there's talk about "cleaning it up" in the newspaper but not much ever happens. I suspect that they'll try to clean it up for the olympics. I have no idea where all of the poor bastards will go, housing everywhere is super expensive in this city.
posted by aeighty at 3:41 PM on May 1, 2006


Well, actually, there isn't. Especially if you're looking for a living-wage job but have no references less than five years old because you've been shooting up and smoking up for all that time.

So the vast majority of these people have been out of the normal bits of society since Vancouver went all liberal on drugs originally? I'm not sure exactly when that was just that it didn't work and whoevers idea it was quickly got voted out.

If you aren't a crack smoking lunatic then you can get a job pretty easily from what I've seen.


We generally don't arrest and imprison people for using

This doesn't happen in the UK either but we put thousands of people through rehab, into housing schemes and into work a year. A lot of them do end up using again for sure but also a lot of them get off of drugs and actually start living a real life again. There is nothing really similar to Hastings and Main in the UK at all. There are rough areas, but they are generally full of people who are just poor and generally rude.
posted by public at 3:42 PM on May 1, 2006


I can only assume the title of your post is a joke. Having lived in Los Angeles, New York City, and the Bay Area, Vancouver always seems to me to be a marvel; so few destitute people, and the ones there are so well-spoken and well-behaved compared to the places I've lived. Even the graffiti is mostly literary or political.

If you choose to see burnt-out, Third World condition ghettoes in North America, you can find them in the Bronx; or in Oakland, CA; or in the 60 mile stretch of city south of downtown L.A.; and they really make Vancouver and environs look very pleasant.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:48 PM on May 1, 2006


Being a port, Vancouver has always been a drug hub. It has a history of being a frontier party centre, a place where loggers and fisherman went to play. It's the warmest city in the country, making it attractive to transients. It's the end of the highway (and the railroad) so rootless people tend to wash up here.

The drug problem is a huge political issue here. The concensus approach relies on what are called the Four Pillars: harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement. Harm reduction is the rationale for the needle exchanges, safe injection sites and debates about heroin prescription. I think it's working to an extent: at least junkies don't seem to be dying at the rate they were a few years ago.
posted by timeistight at 4:35 PM on May 1, 2006


Main & Hastings stretch has always been the "scariest" part of Vancouver.

This is true. And the scare-quotes are accurate, because the people down there aren't really all that scary. I have pretty much always made an effort to get down to the Hastings section of Vancouver (it has (had?) most of the pawn shops) and have never felt the least bit scared.

Thing of it is, most of the Hastings people seem to be lifers: they're mostly older and wiser. They know that if they go looking to fight, they're going to end off worse.

Up on Granville, though, there are young kids hopped up on god knows what, looking to scrap. Full of anger and hate. Up on Granville I have felt distinctly unsafe at times.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:00 PM on May 1, 2006


don't they bottle such people up in estates in the U.K. to keep them out of the downtowns of major cities?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:07 PM on May 1, 2006


There's a documentary called Exiles in Lotusland (Le Mechant Trip) that may not exactly answer your question, but does provide a fascinating look at life on the streets in Vancouver.

In the documentary, somebody points out that a lot of the kids living on the streets in Vancouver overcome many challenges in their day to day attempt to just stay alive. They tend to be understandably discouraged when somebody gives them a shitty job at McDonalds and says "Here, now you're in society, doesn't that feel good".

During the day, I've never felt any danger walking around in that area. I actually feel a great sense of community down there--people in clusters, talking to each other, getting food together. I can't say I've been down there at night, however.
posted by stray at 7:51 PM on May 1, 2006


I always wondered if it wasn't because of the climate. Vancouver (and Victoria) are pretty much the only cities in Canada where you can live on the street all year without serious risk of hypothermia.

If I were destitute, Vancouver would be the first place I hitchhike to.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:00 PM on May 1, 2006


Here in Toronto I have heard of homeless – or at least migrant – people moving slowly out towards Vancouver (or Victoria) for the winter from Ontario and other eastern places for the simple reason that they can live relatively well outside. Then when spring comes back they head back east.

I don't know how common this is, but it sounded like a common lifestyle.

It probably partly explains why relatively speaking, Toronto doesn't really have a ghetto and just questionable neighbourhoods, although homelessness has been better handled in the past than presently.
posted by iTristan at 8:29 PM on May 1, 2006


Oh, I haven't done Hastings at night. I don't think that would be overly wise, although I'm reasonably certain the risk is actually far, far less than I perceive.

Granville in the early night has enough population milling about to make it very safe. I would not want to try hanging out there at 2am on a chill fall day, though, when none of the club groupies are hanging around outside.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:22 PM on May 1, 2006


I'm not sure exactly when that was

The downtown east side has been a mess for at least twenty years.

If you aren't a crack smoking lunatic then you can get a job pretty easily from what I've seen.


Living-wage jobs are not easy to come by, but I think one needs to be in town for longer than a week to come to that conclusion.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:38 PM on May 1, 2006


Last I looked, it was possible to purchase crack in the parking lot behind the Mission Street police station in San Francisco. I think the phenomenon of highly visible homelessness, panhandling, and drug activity you're describing isn't unique to Vancouver in any way. Rather, I suspect the environment you're accustomed to is the exception.
posted by majick at 10:44 PM on May 1, 2006


"Londoners don't live in London, they live in the tube map of London" - Will Self

Most of London's destitute have been pushed beyond the tube map and beyond the M25. See also London Orbital by Iain Sinclair.
posted by shoepal at 11:31 PM on May 1, 2006


I don't know how much it's changed in the last 16 years or so, but for a while I used to spend a lot of time hanging out down on East Hastings with the old guys drinking beer by the glass. It wasn't 'nice', but it wasn't scary back then, particularly, to me at least. I remember the Churchill Arms, for example, with much fondness. Don't know if it's still there.

I've seen much worse, in many places, since.

Also, what FFF said.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:44 AM on May 2, 2006


The other thing to consider is last week welfare issued the monthly cheque and when that happens all hell breaks loose, (the locals call it "mardi gras") so anything that happens there gets bumped up an extra notch or two for a few days until the money runs out.

I suspect that they'll try to clean it up for the olympics.

Just like they tried before Expo 86, fat lot of good it did back then too IIRC the development of the Expo site caused a few thousand residents to be displaced ... ugh don't get me started.

public don't know what to say without going into a 30 page screed about All.That.Is.Wrong.With.The.Universe (used to work as an advocate down there so have an idea of two - heh). Suffice it to say the area has been neglected for a very long time and whelp what you saw is the result.
posted by squeak at 3:33 AM on May 2, 2006


MonkeySaltedNuts >>> don't they bottle such people up in estates in the U.K. to keep them out of the downtowns of major cities?

Got it in one - it's basically all about where the city dumps their undesirables. There's nothing I've seen on Hastings (or other parts of Vancouver/North Van) that doesn't equal what I've seen growing up in and around the crappy areas of Bristol (Hartcliffe, Knowle-West Stapleton rd, St. Pauls), or what I suspect is lurking behind the high street facade of London. I also spent a portion of my childhood living in a hostel with similar people (junkies, prostitutes et al) to those that you'll find on Hastings. If anything, I found that side of Vancouver less threatening and more community spirited in comparison to here in the UK.
posted by saturnine at 3:42 AM on May 2, 2006


The latest plan is to provide them with free drugs, but this has yet to be implemented.

From what I understand, providing free drugs works with heroin addiction, because the addiction runs its course in five years and by giving the addicts free needles and pure drugs you can keep them alive and out of jail for those five years. I've heard about such programs in England. But in Vancouver they have a crack culture, and that approach doesn't work with crack addiction.
posted by orange swan at 5:48 AM on May 2, 2006


Agree with fff and ikkyu2 (except -- 60 mile stretch? Maybe 6 mile -- surely we're not including the likes of Belmont Shores, Newport Beach, Irvine and San Clemente). To this city boy from Back East, Hastings (and Granville too) are nothin' -- and I've wandered around these places on foot, in the dead of night. What's remarkable about "the destitute down and outs" of Vancouver to someone with my background is the high percentage of white people.
posted by Rash at 8:46 AM on May 2, 2006


It's a huge issue. There's something like 10,000 injection drug users in the Downtown East Side.

Some factors that come to mind:

(1) Ready availability of hard drugs (heroin, cocaine).
(2) Declining prices and increasing purity.
(3) Lack of treatment facilities, low success rate.
(4) Homelessness (mild climate, rising housing costs, deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill).
(5) Maybe the libertarian culture? We generally have a live-and-let-live culture out here. But a liberal political culture is based on the assumption that individuals can take responsibility for themselves, and it's hard to see how this applies to users of hard drugs.

Lately there've been quite a few stories about crystal meth becoming a bigger problem.

And some consequences:

(1) Overdose deaths.
(2) HIV infection.
(3) Prostitution.
(4) "Frequent fliers" in emergency rooms.
(5) General waste of human life. It's really sad to see young women with holes they've gouged in their faces (it's common to hallucinate that there's insects crawling on your skin).
(6) Property crime. (Violent crime hasn't been a big problem. My commute takes me close to the Main Street SkyTrain station, close to the Downtown East Side. And I walk from Tinseltown along Pender to Main Street at night fairly regularly, and I've never felt unsafe. Wouldn't recommend it if you're female, though.)
(7) Panhandling, squeegee kids, general ugliness of the Downtown East Side. It makes a bad impression on visitors.

Some articles:

Canada's safe haven for junkies. Salon article on safe injection sites in Vancouver. With an in-depth study of the city's injection drug users already in progress, Evan Wood and his colleague Dr. Martin Schechter, head of UBC's epidemiology department, were able to measure the impact in late 2000 of a seizure of 220 pounds of heroin -- the single largest drug-enforcement win in Canada's history. Following more than 120 addicts during the months before and after, the researchers reported that "the massive seizure appeared to have no impact on injection users or on the perceived availability of heroin." In fact, the study found that the median price of heroin in Vancouver dropped 20 percent following the seizure, with no change in purity, suggesting an even more saturated supply. ... "The responsibility lies with the politicians and policymakers who continue to direct the overwhelming majority of resources into failing supply-reduction strategies, despite the wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating their ineffectiveness," they write. "Our strong consensus [is] that curbing HIV and overdose epidemics requires a shift toward prevention, treatment and harm reduction."

Coureurs de squeegee. Vancouver Courier article on kids from Quebec who come out to Vancouver for the cheap drugs. "I was a squeegee kid and a crackhead in Montreal," explains Martin, "but the drugs are so cheap and easy to find here that I've just done way too much."

My Cracked Life. Vancouver Magazine article by a Vancouver realtor and crack addict, Alan S. Getting help is a catch-22. Detox has about a two-week wait. For those crying out for immediate help, two weeks may as well be two years. Some rehabs and treatment centres are covered by welfare, most have waiting lists, and a very few will take you if you just show up. The cheapest you’ll find will run about $700 a month, the high end $5,000-plus. Cushy digs and a hefty bill don’t necessarily give one better odds. The success rate remains pitiful: 10 to 15 percent (that’s their stats; I’d put it lower). Maybe Alan Steele, currently a murder suspect?

Double Bind. Georgia Straight article on treatment of dual-diagnosis patients (addicted and mentally ill). Take one of local psychiatrist Dr. Bill MacEwan's patients. MacEwan, who specializes in drug-induced psychosis and who started the Fraser Health Authority's Early Psychosis Program, treats one woman with schizophrenia, hepatitis C, and HIV--and who's also addicted to crystal meth. The drug can make people aggressive and paranoid in the extreme; schizophrenia itself can cause distorted, delusional thinking. Having wound up in a psychotic state many times, she's been to the emergency ward at St. Paul's Hospital on more than 60 occasions in the past year--the type of patient staff refer to as a "frequent flier". Typically, she's given antipsychotic medication then discharged as soon as she's "stable" or has come down off her high. But without any follow-up or ongoing care, she goes back to the streets where she lives and uses drugs to cope and eventually comes back through the hospital's revolving door.

If anyone's got references to papers on experience with drug policy elsewhere, that'd be great.
posted by russilwvong at 11:03 AM on May 2, 2006 [1 favorite]


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