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Red, Dee and her sister

We met Dee outside The Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House and learned that someone had just passed away last night. When asked if they were close, Dee told us that the man had no ID on him so they were not able to identify who he was.

“Everyone is supposed to have ID to access the building - someone must’ve let him in last night....”

Then, Dee shared something that took us by surprise…

“The biggest challenge I have with living here is the staff...”

Dee then shared about the frustrations of not being able to trust even the workers who staff the building and the complications with under-the-table deals. These events jeopardize the safety of residents like Dee and her family that has lived in the building for nine years since moving off the streets in 2007. As a long-time resident in the community, she shared about the different companies that manage government housing and the problems they’ve had with each. She told us that she is currently trying to relocate to another newer set of housing down the road from Princess Avenue and how it wasn’t the lack of money, or food, or anything else that we typically associate with poverty that was the problem; but that it was the workers at each of these shelters and housing that has been her biggest source of worry. There are so many facets that underlie the somewhat glamorized issue of poverty in Vancouver. Even with just this one conversation, we learned about a different side of life in the Downtown Eastside and how infrastructural challenges need to be addressed.

While sharing lunch with Dee, we were introduced to her friend who initially told us to call him “Red”. A common occurrence in the community, Red shared that his real name was Lavall but that many residents in the Downtown Eastside have street names that they prefer to use.

“I rarely share my real name with anyone but I appreciate that you guys are trying to actually get to know me.”

We were unexpectedly touched by that comment but also realized that this one statement was more than a sweet gesture but rather, as Red later confirmed, an implication that many groups try to “make change” without first understanding the thoughts of residents. We acknowledged that this issue is so much more complex than we initially thought and while we didn’t have any solutions for Dee and her friends, they were the ones who, when we said goodbye, reminded us that they appreciated this conversation and felt that their voices were more respected than when organizations try to implement changes without first understanding the predicament of those they are trying to help.

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