I got a call from a close friend out in Vancouver. She’s one of the few people I can honestly talk about suicidal feelings with and vice versa, because I know she won’t run around yelling “Oh my god! I have to save your life! This is a burden, I’m resentful, what a manipulative thing to say!” Meanwhile I’m just like “Uh, can I just watch t.v. with you tonight until I can be on my own? I think Desperate Housewives is on.” Lucky for me Lynn and I really can just sit around watching Desperate Housewives and saying absent minded things about jumping off bridges or driving cars off of cliffs. And usually by the end of hanging out those bad feelings are drifting away to a more manageable level. She’s pretty fun. She’s also a big perv, but of the heterosexual variety. So I was shocked when the first thing she told me in our last conversation was uh, never mind. But I was amazed it was possible, and more amazed that it happened in the smoking room of a bar.
Anyway, she and I also used to live in the same building in a DTES neighborhood called Strathcona in a slum building called Bad Manors. For the most part Bad Manors is composed of artists in two room apartments and is a happy little building, for a slum. But recently a heroin dealer moved into one of the apartments, and apparently she is involved in a physically abusive lesbian relationship. Domestic abuse isn’t new to that building either, and we used to have to call the cops on a downstairs neighbor all time, especially when I heard him say he had a gun. (The walls are thin).
When I first left the building the next tenant in my apartment was a white loner who kept to himself and had a little white dog. Then one day Lynn saw him getting out of the shower and he had a huge swastika tattooed on his chest. She was trying to figure out if he was dangerous or not and she said he did have a little dog, like maybe that meant he wasn’t violent. “Yeah, but it was WHITE!” And Lynn is very very brown.
So the point is, now a steady stream of addicts are coming into the building to get heroin, and like most addicts who are getting ill from withdrawal, they’re shooting up in the nearest place, usually the shared bathrooms. Lynn told me there are blood spatters and rigs everywhere, and explosive diarrhea. Ew. The tenants are refusing to pay rent en masse and the landlord is on a spiritual retreat in India or something.
I’m surprised they’ve been coming to the apartment, since a lot of people are dealing heroin at Main and Hastings, and Insite, the safe injection site, is just down the street from there. I’m sure at some point someone is going to come across an ODed person in a bathroom at Bad Manors. Even walking around in that neighborhood sometimes you have to stop and carefully observe or give a shake to someone passed out on a park bench, because sometimes they really are dead. Not often, but enough that you can’t just walk on by without making sure.
Once we were watching TV and a dramatic news report came on about a skid row heroin neighborhood and did the classic media coverage of Hastings, specifically a slow drive by with a camera out the window. We both yelled “Hey! That’s our neighborhood!” The drive by shooting of the camera variety is all too common, I’ve had friends working the streets who have told me about watching a van with a lens pointed at them suddenly drive by.
The media coverage of Hastings is fucked. The residents are sick of being used by news and film crews without appropriate negotiations with the community. It’s true. It’s an area that is exploited by the middle to upper class so that the poor can be demonized as fucked up drug addicts with sores everywhere. And some of that is true, but a lot of larger social forces which created those problems in peoples lives aren’t looked at. Not only that, but the wealthy are buying property in the area and then having the audacity to say “How can we get rid of the people in this area?” Um, why did you move to the area? You can’t live in Vancouver without knowing the demographics of the DTES. There’s even an apartment building that has a sprinkler set up to a motion detector to keep the “vagrants” away, I know because one day on my way to work in Gastown I got soaking wet because I stepped too close to the precious rich people building. Some people got inventive though and used it for a shower.
The other issue is that the residents have to fight really hard to get their voices heard rather than have policies made with input from outside “professionals” who believe they know what the residents are going through without ever living there. If it wasn’t for a coalition made up of junkies, former junkies, and their allies lobbying, Insight would not exist.
It’s a big problem that Bad Manors has become a shooting gallery, but it’s also a problem that addicts don’t have access to reliable, safe, sources of heroin.
As you can tell I’m in favour of decriminalizing most drugs because of the harm reduction philosophy. The safe injection site is a good start, but we also have to figure out a way that the hard drug trade has it’s own specific site so people going to the bathroom in their own building don’t have to worry about needle stick injuries.
The majority of Canadians want to decriminalize marijuana, and we’ve been wanting to for YEARS, except the American war on drugs has trampled what Canada can do in it’s own country. DEA agents set fire to a DTES storefront for people trying to decriminalize marijuana and ended up burning down Spartacus Books, a non-profit book store selling rare books about theory, activism, race politics, and lots of other liberal intellectualism. Since Spartacus is non profit and since their entire stock was destroyed, they haven’t been able to open a new store in YEARS, and possibly never will.
If we had red light districts and specific places people could get drugs, these problems wouldn’t be so huge. And then Lynn could have a pee without worrying about a splat of blood on the wall from someone hitting an artery instead of a vein.
Here’s some good info on reforming drug laws in Canada from the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.