Who gets to talk about the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver?

 

During the summer, I read an article in the Vancouver Sun entitled “260 agencies, housing sites crowd Downtown Eastside.”  The byline reads, “a new list compiled by the Sun includes 30 health care operators, services for families, and more than 100 linked to housing. Sun reporters… ask why they are all crammed into one tiny neighbourhood.” The article was published at the end of June but it’s been sitting in my desk drawer covered in highlighter and notes ever since. Despite its presence amongst the other materials I turn to when I write, I haven’t picked it up again for several reasons.

Firstly, I honestly didn’t know where to begin. Even as someone relatively new to recognizing classism, poor-phobia, and settler colonialism, reading the article was an excruciatingly frustrating endeavour. Starting just with the headline, the article is set up to frame the services available in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) as excessive and inefficient, fuelling neoliberal angst that social services are a “waste of my tax-dollars”. What the article fails to reference is the criticisms of the not-for-profit industrial complex that come from the DTES itself. These critiques ask different questions about services in areas like the DTES that centre on the lives of those who are actually receiving and in need of services.

Secondly, I didn’t want to erase the issue of voice. Here I was, reading the article, asking when the reporters might refer to the opinion of someone with actual lived knowledge of the DTES. The article does reference the Carnegie Project and quotes Scott Clark, a resident and worker within the DTES whos involved with ALIVE, the Aboriginal Live in Vancouver Enhancement Society. These are saving graces but it seems too convenient that they reside at the end of the article after the PhD bearing “experts” have weighed in. If I could feel myself so angered by the voyeuristic gaze of social scientists and the like, what right do I have, as someone who has neither lived nor worked in the DTES, to take up space with my own voice?

However, what I do have lived experience with is rich, degree holding white folks who write for an audience that looks a little too much like they do. And what I can say on that matter is that these are not universal experiences or opinions. Their “expertise” is not going to end poverty or foster robust social justice. And that’s why we need to silence our “how to fix the DTES narratives” in favour of a committed effort to standing back and letting the work being done in that community, by and for that community, really thrive.

So I’m going to take a break from the Vancouver Sun and seek out media that’s more responsible, honest, and representative of the incredible things being done in the DTES everyday. For a few examples check out “Megaphone Magazine” or the “DTES Power of Women” page at Vancouver Media Co-op. And, for more on the non-profit industrial complex, hit up the library and check out The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex by INCITE! Women Of Color Against Violence.

 

Image sources: evonniastarr.blogspot.ca and wrongkindofgreen.org

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