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I’m not originally from Vancouver. I’m from Montreal, but I moved out here back when I was in my twenties to meet my dad for the first time. When we met, it didn’t work out and we parted ways once again. However, he contacted me a year before he died and gave me a handwritten birthday card that said “I love you”. That was the first time I heard those words from him. I still have it with me. Even though I spilled coffee all over it a couple of years ago, I still kept it and cherish it to this day.

I don’t live with my family. My parents passed away a while ago and I’m the only child so it’s been pretty lonely. I live in a place nearby with a nurse who lives down the hall and takes care of me.

The biggest piece of advice I have to offer is don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something because that causes so much negativity. If you truly want to do something, just go for it and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Leslie and Jenny's Reflection

As we were talking to Rose, a man approached her from behind and kissed her on the cheek. He spoke softly into her ear, ran his hands along her shoulders, and then walked away.

Rose told us that she’s known the man for 10-20 years now and that was something that he did to her every day. She’s tried to push him away and tell him that it makes her uncomfortable, but he always persists and there’s not much she can do about it since she is confined to a wheelchair and doesn’t have full function of her hands. It breaks my heart to see that she’s being taken advantage of because of her physical situation; she has to put up with these unwanted advances because she is physically limited and unable to prevent it from happening. As a woman, I frequently worry about how to deal with unwanted physical advances from men and I can’t imagine how powerless she feels in her situation.

As our conversation progressed, a woman dressed in a black t-shirt and black jeans approached Rose and discretely handed her a small bag of white powder. In exchange, Rose lifted up her leg up in the wheelchair to reveal a stack of bills. She was having trouble handing the woman $5 amongst her stack of bills with her disfigured hands. Rose asked the woman if she would mind taking the money herself. The woman bent over and took the money from underneath her leg, exactly $5. She thanked Rose and continued on her way down the street.

This was the first time that I witnessed a drug transaction and it never struck me how easy it was to access drugs, both their abundance and the relative inexpensive price, in the Downtown Eastside. It was interesting to see that even though not all members of the Downtown Eastside have access to a cellphone, they are able to organize themselves to carry out these transactions. It’s evident that the community is very close; everyone along the street that we were walking along knew each other and who to contact if they ever needed a fix. Although some individuals are at more of a disadvantage, they do not take advantage of each other for personal gain. It’s heartwarming to see that although they are trying their best to survive on their own, they don’t want to do it at the cost of others’ ability to do the same. The community of the Downtown Eastside may be scattered across a large area, but they are also a close community that watches out for each other.

One of the big things I realized from participating in Warmth of Winter was how easy it was for us to just pack some food and distribute to the Vancouver East side community. I plan on gathering a couple of my friends to create our own “Warmth of Winter” group and go down there more often so I can build more of a long-term relationship with them. One of the downsides was that a lot of them were not willing to share their personal stories with us which is understandable since we had just met them so I think visiting them on regular basis and building a relationship with them would help us identify their real situation and their needs.

©2020 by Humanitarian Organization for Providing Empowerment. 

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