Early this morning in Vancouver’s notorious Eastside, homeless people were seen strewn about on the sidewalks and huddled up against filthy walls in the alleyways. This 15-square-block area between Gastown and Chinatown, centered at the corner of Main and Hastings Streets, has been cited as “Vancouver’s ‘gulag’: Canada’s poorest neighbourhood.” Even though nearly one million dollars per day was spent on social services back in 2009, the people living in the Eastside today say conditions are getting far worse and even deadly at times.
Walking these Eastside streets is indeed a wake-up call to many, including one recovering addict who spoke to the Examiner about his time down on the skids of Hastings. “I didn’t intend to come live down here in the Eastside, I ended up here because my addiction to drugs brought me here,” he said. In 2010 the BBC News cited, “Vancouver: ‘Drug Central’ of North America – home to one of the worst drug problems in North America.” The hellish drug scene in Vancouver plagues the majority of homeless people and is a complex, controversial issue that isn’t going away anytime soon.
One homeless person, Kevin, said he is still struggling to find an affordable place to live and stay away from drugs. He feels frustrated, hopeless, and at times, suicidal.
“It’s really hard living down here every day with no place to call home, sleeping in dark alleys under a wet blanket, and feeling that the government doesn’t give a damn whether we live or die. Some days I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.”
Warm weather arrived early this year, welcoming more homeless people migrating from cold, eastern Canada. Each day, there appears to be more people in the downtown core walking around in a daze or sitting on the sidewalk against the wall of old buildings. The National Post reported on March 23, 2016: “In Vancouver, a recent study out of Simon Fraser University found that 52 per cent of the homeless in the Downtown Eastside had come from outside the city. Of those, many had already been homeless.”
“Homeless people know that Vancouver has better services, citizens who give to panhandlers and police officers who are accustomed to the unnerving tics that come with heroin addiction or untreated mental illness, says the study’s lead author.”
For most Eastside people it’s easier to buy drugs than it is to order ‘delivery pizza’ or Chinese food. Dealers are posted on nearly every street corner and line the sidewalks in droves – some, calling out their illicit products like an auctioneer. Unlike the drug crack-downs of the 1970’s and 80’s by Vancouver Police and RCMP – Vancouver is now an ‘open drug market’ like none other in the world.
There are about 15,000 injections a day in the Downtown Eastside with more than 700 of those injections happening at Insite – the first legal supervised drug injection site in North America. In 2009, the site recorded 276,178 visits (an average of 702 visits per day) by 5,447 unique users; 484 overdoses occurred with no fatalities, due to intervention by medical staff.
Now unwary homeless drug users are facing death each time they wander the Eastside streets. CBC News reports Feb. 12, 2016: “W-18: deadly street drug 100 times stronger than fentanyl – It’s not in a drug dealer’s interest to be killing everyone who is buying these drugs. On the heels of hundreds of overdose deaths related to fentanyl, authorities are now warning the public about a new and extremely lethal drug that’s hit the streets in Western Canada. W-18 is a synthetic opioid 10,000 more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.”
W-18 is not derived from a plant like heroin is from the opium poppy – it can be made in a small room or basement with no margin for error. One small slip by a greedy, ‘quasi-chemist’ and the deadly poison takes down even the hardiest of addicts.
Indeed, it’s a deadly state of affairs on the toxic drug streets down in the East Side for the homeless who arrive in uncharted, Vancouver territory. The complexity boggles the mind when one talks to physicians, addiction specialist, and outreach workers who try to help the homeless find a safe place to live and recover from their misery.
A few minutes prior to publishing this story, a recovering addict told the Examiner:
“In all my years in and out of the Downtown East Side, I have never seen it as bad as it is now. On a walk last night, I saw things happening that were very unbelievable unless you saw it with your own eyes. It’s so sad.”
Kevin, who was mentioned earlier in this story about feeling hopeless and suicidal, thinks politicians like Prime Minister Trudeau, B.C. Premier Christy Clark, and Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson, should take an unannounced ‘walk-about’ down in the Eastside. “Don’t notify the Vancouver Police first so they have time to clean up and push the homeless and addicts onto the side streets, they should see the real picture – not a “staged photo-shoot” event to gain votes. If they care about us, if they care about whether we live or die, they should see for themselves what pain and misery we live in,” he said.