Build a Downtown Eastside for all people to live in

DTES resident reacts to ‘prescription’ to improve life in poverty-stricken neighbourhood

12th and Cambie

Last week in this space I wrote about a prescription for improving life in the Downtown Eastside.

The prescription belongs to Michael Clague, the former director of the Carnegie Community Centre, who also served as a co-chairperson of the Downtown Eastside Local Area Planning Committee.

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Clague’s prescription is based on years of studies, reports and field experience from people and organizations within and outside the Downtown Eastside, which is the city's epicentre for homelessness, drug addiction and people living with a a mental illness.

He titled it, “It’s not magic.”

You can read it here.

To summarize, he's calling for more shelter-rate housing, more care and health supports for residents, more job opportunities and the decriminalization of drugs improve people’s lives.

To get this done though, systemic change in policies and practices is needed, Clague said in his email to me. As I wrote in my previous piece, he’s referring to the absence of political will here.

I thought about polling a few politicians about Clague’s prescription, but decided against it. Not really sure what more they can tell me that hasn’t already been said.

Frankly, you’ve heard all this before: we need all levels of government to participate, we need to take a holistic approach, we need to engage stakeholders, we need to work with our community partners, etcetera, etcetera.

So let me introduce you to Joel Motherwell, instead. He’s a Downtown Eastside resident. He read Clague’s prescription and sent me an email with his thoughts.

It’s one person’s take, but it does give some insight into a guy’s life — raw as it has been over the years — in the neighbourhood. Thankfully, he didn’t mention “stakeholder” once.

I should note Motherwell refers to my prescription in his letter, when he really means Clague’s prescription. The confusion probably has something to do with both of us being Michaels.

I’ve condensed and edited Motherwell’s email for clarity.

“So, I am walking to McDonald’s to grab a coffee. I see a newspaper box and choose to grab a paper, even though it’s not my usual Star [competition for you guys]. I flip right to your column.

“Your prescription is bang-on, sir. I am a longtime resident of the Downtown Eastside. My name is Joel Motherwell, and I won’t say my age, but I am one of the lucky ones.

“I ended up homeless many years ago due to a few bad decisions [I chose to use cocaine]. That resulted in overly severe punishment from my family, the mother of my child and all of my peers. I was alienated.

“I do not hold any anger for any of them now. In fact, they all did the safest move — to keep any issues clean and far away from their lives.

“I am not writing to tell you my sob story. So I’ll summarize the rest. As a result of many unfortunate things, including an attempted murder, I have been a survivor of the DTES for roughly 15 years now.

“I love East Vancouver now. It’s become my home. The people, as messed up as they seem, are the most amazing and talented community probably on the planet. But many of us suffer from gentrification [of the neighbourhood].

“I am a very talented musician. Growing up in North Vancouver, I was an accomplished snowboarder for 20-plus years. And I’ve been a writer and painter all my life.

“I was forced into the Downtown Eastside many years ago because like so many artists, we struggle to calm the thoughts and we use drugs.

“Once I was here, believe me when I say that almost every person who has crossed my path, has done what they can to keep me in the DTES.

“I’ve spent years never being taken seriously and, most importantly, looked down on because I am financially poor and choose to self-medicate, and not lie about it.

“I haven’t touched cocaine for 15 years. Never done opiates or fentanyl. I do use crystal meth medicinally. I don’t smoke marijuana. You are probably forming an opinion of me now — out of control, prone to mood swings, talk to myself out loud or to demons that follow me. Sorry, I cannot say that is me. I would be lying.

“Anyway, sir, I really like your remedy. It would work!!! I would work and dedicate any or all of my spirit and artistic outlets. I would invest myself in your idea, if I ever had the chance.

“But one problem stands in the way: The other people who live in this city and work very hard at keeping us where we are — the ones who are threatened by our eccentric gifts and genius.

“They keep us here so they may live out their dreary, mediocre lives instead of setting us free and allowing us to do what God ordained us to be and do.

“Build the world that we all get to run in.”

Again, one guy’s take.

A stakeholder, if you will.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

 

 

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