Downtown Eastside

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For the song, East Hastings, by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, see F♯ A♯ ∞.
Downtown Eastside
Urban Neighborhood
View of the Downtown Eastside and Woodward's site from Harbour Centre.
View of the Downtown Eastside and Woodward's site from Harbour Centre.
Nickname(s): DTES, Skid Row
Location of the Downtown Eastside (in red) in Vancouver.
Location of the Downtown Eastside (in red) in Vancouver.
Coordinates: 49°16′50″N 123°05′0″W / 49.28056°N 123.08333°W / 49.28056; -123.08333Coordinates: 49°16′50″N 123°05′0″W / 49.28056°N 123.08333°W / 49.28056; -123.08333
Country  Canada
Province  British Columbia
City Vancouver
Population (2006)[1]
 • Total 18,000
Time zone PST (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)

The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and is perhaps erroneously[2] known as "Canada's poorest postal code".[3][4] According to the city of Vancouver, the following zoning areas are partly or wholly within the Downtown Eastside: Chinatown, Gastown, Oppenheimer Park (formerly Japantown), Strathcona, Thornton Park and Victory Square, as well as the light industrial area to the North.[1] There are many conflicting definitions of its perimeter but it can generally be viewed as being bordered by Abbott Street to the west, Clark Drive to the east, the waterfront to the north and Venables Street/Prior Avenue to the south, with Hastings Street running down the middle of the neighbourhood.

The area is noted for a high incidence of poverty, drug use, sex trade, crime, violence, as well as a history of community activism.[5] Hastings and Cordova Streets were once the core shopping district in the city,[6][7][8][9] but many of the retail shops that flourished until the early 1980s are now gone. The area is the victim of significant urban decay. In recent years there have been tensions between developers and some members of the community relating to gentrification development proposals.[10]


This area was the centre of the city at the turn of the 20th century, with the city hall, the courthouse, and the Carnegie Library all located there. The headquarters of the BC Electric Railway Company was also in the area, making the DTES the hub of rail transit not only of Vancouver, but the entire region.[citation needed] It was also the main shopping area for the city, which centred around the Woodward's department store. The surrounding stretch of Hastings Street was a major cultural and entertainment district. Prior to the Second World War, there was a large Japanese community in Japantown.

Mosaic sidewalk art on East Hastings Street

As the city centre shifted to the west, and suburban shoppers took advantage of new local malls, the DTES (or Skid Road as it was more commonly known until the late 20th century),[11] began to decline. With the area already containing numerous cheap hotels and beer parlours, and with alcoholism already endemic, hard drug use began to become the norm along the Hastings "strip". With Eaton's moving its Vancouver flagship store from West Hastings in the 1970s, the decline in shopping traffic led to Woodward's shutting down in 1993. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, crack cocaine was becoming a serious problem in the city. Businesses began leaving the neighbourhood, a trend which was to last for many years. In recent times, however, certain types of local business have been making a comeback. There are tourist-oriented shops, knick-knack boutiques, low-cost household supply stores, restaurants, clothing outlets, a full-scale grocery store, many fresh vegetable retailers and butcher shops, as well as a multitude of convenience stores. Some storefronts along the DTES stretch of Hastings Street are still empty, with entire buildings often up for sale. New art galleries, convenience stores, fast food outlets, social service organizations and other small businesses continually open here.

In the 1980s, many of the street prostitutes in other parts of Vancouver, such as the nearby West End, were kicked out of the neighbourhood after a community campaign led by Gordon Price and ended up in the DTES – now known to sex trade workers as the "low track" – and contiguous industrial areas near Vancouver's port. Many believe that this has exacerbated the problem of violence against prostitutes. Over 600 women associated with the DTES low track have gone missing since the early 1980s. Robert William Pickton has been charged with the murders of 26 of these women and convicted on six counts. The BC Missing Women Investigation is ongoing.

Hotel Empress at 235 East Hastings is one of the many single-room occupancy hotels in the area. In the fall of 2006, residents were issued eviction notices.[12]


A Chinese temple in the heart of East Hastings shows the diversity of the neighbourhood. The building was originally a Salvation Army Temple.

The Downtown Eastside, as defined by the City of Vancouver, was home to an estimated 18,477 people in 2011.[13] According to the city, 10% of the residents self-identified as Aboriginal in 2001, which comprised approximately 10% of the total Aboriginal population in the city. The Globe and Mail indicated a higher number, having reported that 14% of the residents are of Aboriginal descent, and 9% are status Indians.[5] In the same year, 43% of the population were immigrants, with 23% of those being from China, 5% from Vietnam, 2% from Hong Kong and 14% from all other countries. One percent of residents were on visas or had refugee status. The average household size is 1.3 residents; 82% of the population lived alone. Children and teenagers make up 7% of the population, compared to 25% for Canada overall. The average income for adults living alone is $6,282 per year, and $14,024 after government subsidies. In comparison, the average for Canada is less than $21,000 for adults living alone. 62% of the residents over the age of 15 are not considered participants in the labour force, compared to 33% in Vancouver as a whole.[5]

A large number of service personnel work and/or live in the area. These include cooks and kitchen staff, paramedics, police and firemen, social service and employment agency representatives. Mental health workers, doctors and alternative therapy practitioners, educators, priests, nuns and other members of the clergy also make up a significant portion of the population. The area is home to many artists and social activists.


Drug use[edit]

Vancouver police making an arrest in a DTES alley.

The Downtown Eastside has a high incidence of HIV and Hepatitis C (Hep C) infection.[14]

Vancouver's needle exchange, the first in North America, opened in 1989 and distributes about 3 million free needles per year to users. The opening of North America's first safe injection site (known as Insite) in this neighbourhood has lowered the spread of HIV and has reduced the other harmful consequences of IV drug use considerably, according to an article by the Canadian Press.[15] However, the project is controversial, and as a result, the continued existence and funding of the site is constantly in question.[16]

Through a Blue Lens, a documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada, was shot in DTES. The film follows interactions between police officers and drug addicts and documents the extreme poverty and suffering many addicts endure.

The Globe and Mail newspaper estimated in a February 2009 article[17] that over 1.4 billion dollars has been spent by federal, provincial and municipal governments since 2001 on health, social and justice efforts aimed at improving the many problems faced by DTES residents.

Mental Illness[edit]

According to a City of Vancouver report in 2012, 40% of homeless people living in the DTES suffer from a mental illness.[18] A change in public policy saw the mass discharge of Riverview Hospital's patients as an effort to integrate them into the community while the province considered the land for development.[19] However, this caused a large influx of mentally ill into the DTES as poor follow-up support failed to reach a majority of these individuals.[20] Dr. Michelle Patterson has suggested that mental illness leads to homelessness, rather than the other way around, especially when social support isn’t present. This group, in addition to the other homeless populating the DTES, has prompted the city to instate programs such as Project Civil City and the Safe Streets Act to address some of the issues associated with visible homelessness and related deviant activity.[21] Criticism of these programs suggests that they have displaced individuals and focused them into a concentrated area where social programs do not have the capacity to aid them.

Stigma surrounding Vancouver's homeless with mental health issues is reported as being a large limiting factor to the quality life and opportunity.[22] This can lead to overcrowding of institutions aimed at housing the mentally ill (Candela Hotel for example) as they try to avoid public scrutiny.[23] The homeless and mentally ill face further social obstacles with relation to disability, race, and gender (see intersectionality). Aid can be withheld from some groups based on their level of illness (example: low to moderate fetal alcohol syndrome) or race (often Aboriginal) in what Dr. Christian Schutz terms the "homeless treatment paradox."[24] There is also a lack of adequate institutions in place to serve the LGBT community that suffers from prejudice and physical assault, and where normal psychiatric services are often insensitive to these individuals' extra stress.[25]

Efforts to relocate some of these individuals into halfway houses have been met with Nimbyism, even though the residents would be low-risk individuals[26] (exemplified by the 39-bed house on Fraser and 39th as part of the Emergency Service and Care Society project that met firm resistance from the community).

Community groups and social agencies[edit]

Carnegie Community Centre at the corner of Main and Hastings.

The Ray-Cam Community Centre provides services and programs for children and families, including English as a Second Language classes, seniors programming, singing and sports opportunities, tutoring and computer stations. Another, the Strathcona Community Centre operated by the Vancouver Parks Board, offers fitness and martial arts classes, special events, a pre-school, after school care, general recreation, arts and crafts programs and free showers. The Carnegie Centre, located at Hastings and Main Streets, serves food, provides live music several times a week and offers free art sketching opportunities[clarification needed] since the early 1980s.

The LifeSkills Centre on Cordova Street across from Oppenheimer Park offers activities such as crafts, sports and special community events and lunches. The IATSE, Local 118 puts on annual turkey dinners and clothing give-aways at the park just before Christmas. The Downtown Eastside Women's Centre at 302 Columbia St. at Cordova provides the Relocation Project/Bridge Housing aids women in need of emergency housing. The Evelyne Saller Centre, on Alexander Street, known to locals as The 44 (from a previous address on E. Cordova St.) provides low cost meals, a TV room, pool table, laundry facilities, showers and out-trips. WISH, a drop-in centre for female survival sex workers located at 330 Alexander Street, is open Sunday – Friday evenings, and offers a hot meal, showers, a literacy program, makeup, clothing and hygiene supplies, and a safe space for women to gather. PACE Society (Providing Alternatives, Counselling, & Education) is a peer organization by sex workers for sex workers located at 148 West Hastings St. PACE offers peer support groups, safety workshops, outreach, advocacy, informal counselling, mentorship, and a Monday to Friday drop-in.

Churches such as the First United Church, one block east of Hastings and Main, Union Gospel Mission on Cordova Street, and Street Church, on Hastings St., provide assistance to area residents in the forms of advocacy in dealing with welfare offices, getting health issues met, dealing with drug rehabilitation, and providing entertainment through movies and outings. First United Church has given away thousands of donated books, articles of clothing and kitchenware. The Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement on E. Cordova St., have for years provided food and clothing for area residents.

The Salvation Army Church (Cariboo Temple) sends a Soup Truck and Volunteers to hand out hot soup, hot drinks and sandwiches every Tuesday and Sunday night. Their counterparts, Vancouver 614, live in the neighbourhood and invite their neighbours into their homes for expressions of family around meals and prayer. The Salvation Army also has institutions with detox, drug rehabilitation, shelters, drop in centres, second stage housing and community services.

The Health Contact Centre on E. Hastings, in the alley, is a place where addicts and street people can go to access nurse services, information and some forms of occupational activities. Unfortunately this was closed Vancouver Coastal Health in Spring 2010 as it was felt to be a "duplication of services". A large number of the elderly population of the area used this as their primary source of medical and social contact.

The UBC Learning Exchange, sponsored by the University of British Columbia since the year 2000, opened up an outreach program at the north end of Main Street which is used by local residents to improve their education.

Pivot Legal Society is a non-profit legal advocacy organization located in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Pivot's mandate is to take a strategic approach to social change, using the law to address the root causes that undermine the quality of life of those most on the margins. Pivot's work involves addressing child welfare, addiction and health, housing, policing and prostitution.

Guru Nanak's Free Kitchen is a non-profit community organization that regularly provides thousands of meals to the needy and homeless in the area through events held in the local area such as the LifeSkills Centre and the First United Church. The concept is founded on the Sikh principles of langar (free kitchen) and seva (selfless service) developed by Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji hundreds of years ago.

Murality is a non-profit organization with the aim to revitalize Vancouver's Downtown Eastside through street art. Its first project, Jump for Joy, is located in Chinatown. This temporary mural was initiated by Murality's founder, Amalia Liapis, and photographer Eyoälha Baker with the goal of bringing life and vitality to nearby residents, as well as tourists.

Residents' Association[edit]

The neighbourhood was home to a notable non-profit Residents' Association, the Downtown Eastside Residents Association or DERA as it was commonly known to residents, who have battled what are known as slum landlords, who own a number of hotels and rooming houses in the area and have been accused of failing to fix dangerous problems[27][28] and contributing to the growing problem of area homelessness by evicting tenants illegally. DERA collapsed in 2010, and a new resident's association – the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) has taken over much of the same advocacy work once performed by DERA.[29]

Early 20th-century buildings on East Hastings St

The many hotels in the area[30] are single room occupancy, or SROs, and provide housing for people on welfare, often including the physically disabled, those having addictions and those with mental or behavioural problems. Some low-income residents and DTES advocacy groups are concerned about the area's increasing gentrification.[31] Many SROs are being closed, and there is concern that they will be replaced with condominiums and other housing, whose prices will be out of reach for the residents of the neighbourhood.[32]

Significant locations[edit]

The final roll over demolition of the Woodward's building on 30 September 2006, taken from across Cordova street facing south. Only the original 1903–08 portion of the building remains standing behind the cloud of dust and debris.

The demolished Woodward's Building, (only the original 1903–08 portion of the building remains) was at one time a central retail and social epicentre of the neighbourhood, and had sat empty for many years.[33] The City Hall driven process was led by then City Councilor Jim Green and was designed by local architect Gregory Henriquez. Almost the entire block is now being redeveloped by Westbank Projects to contain the Simon Fraser University School for Contemporary Arts, 200 units of social housing, 536 units of market housing, a drugstore, a foodstore, a daycare, National Film Board, Federal offices, City offices, a bank and 31,500 square feet (2,930 m2) of Community Space for DTES Non-Profit organizations which includes AIDS Vancouver and W2 Media Collective.[34]

Woodward's W43 tower in 2009

Vancouver's historic Chinatown (Pender and Keefer Streets run through its center) and Gastown Historical District (Water Street) are popular tourist areas in the Downtown Eastside. Gastown is home to many high-end restaurants, lofts and boutiques. Some see this creeping eastward gentrification as a promising development while others are concerned that this will only force many of the poorest from the only housing they can afford. Vancouverites do not traditionally see Gastown and Chinatown as Downtown Eastside locations although they do fall within its borders according to the City of Vancouver.[1]

A number of art galleries, artist-run centres and studios have located themselves in the area. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is also situated within the boundaries of the Downtown Eastside. The flatiron Europe Hotel sits at the crux of Water, Powell, Alexander and Carrall Streets.

The Strathcona neighbourhood lies within the DTES[35] and is a historic working-class neighbourhood that has avoided many social problems, despite the decline of areas nearby. Some people believe that this sense of community was threatened by the growing number of wealthy land speculators buying up the neighbourhood in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympics.[36]

In 2001 17 mosaics[37][38] were laid, employing local artists and residents. Tours of these mosaics and the Downtown Eastside[39] are conducted by various groups. The Vancouver Walkers Meetup group has posted some photos of the mosaics.

The area hosts several public parks, including Oppenheimer Park, Portside (CRAB Park), and Wendy Poole Park. Portside Park,[40] or CRAB Park as it was named during the campaign to Create a Real Accessible Beach,[41] provides a haven for dogs, fowl, and human elements. It is attached to a small beach of sand and pebble that has views over Burrard Inlet. A local group, the Central Waterfront Coalition is trying to build support to retain it for Vancouverites, as it is being considered for development.

Events held in the Downtown Eastside[edit]

Every Sunday a privately organized educational tour is conducted in East Hastings

A number of events have been happening in DTES in the recent past, beginning with Opera Brevé's series of short opera held at the Four Corners Savings Bank.[42] A grand piano was brought in for each event and full costumes and interactive singers put on shows inside the bank at no cost. In 2003 Vancouver Moving Theatre partnered with the Carnegie Community Centre to put on the Heart of the City Festival, the City of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Revitalization link which attracted thousands of visitors from outside the area. It was the 100th anniversary of the Carnegie Centre. The festival was made an annual event during the years 2005 to 2008.

The Crab Park Festival is an annual, volunteer run, outdoor concert that's been held every 1 July since 1984 at Crab Park at Portside. The festival features Vancouver acts, provides food and beverages for residents of the Downtown Eastside, and creates awareness in keeping Crab Park a greenspace for the people in the neighbourhood.[43]

The Japanese Festival, known as the Powell Street Festival, is held each summer in Oppenheimer Park, and at the Japanese Language school nearby. In 2008, the 32nd annual Powell Street Festival was relocated temporarily to Woodland Park, 700 Woodland Drive ( 2 & 3 August 2008). The Jazz Festival also comes to the area in early summer each year, with both renowned and local performers. Gastown is a hotbed of activity and music during this time. Contemporary dancers perform annually at the Dancing on the Edge Festival.

Every Labour Day since 2004, a volunteer-run outdoor concert featuring Vancouver bands has been held in Victory Square Park. The Victory Square Block Party raises money for charities in the DTES.

City Opera of Vancouver has produced numerous events in the DTES since 2006. All have been free to the residents and general public, and have included recitals, concerts, and lecture-demonstrations. These have been given at numerous DTES venues, including the Carnegie Centre, the Pantages Theatre, Jacob's Well, the Evelyne Saller Centre, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Interurban Gallery, Building Opportunities with Business, 319 Main, the Strathcona Community Centre, both years of the Fearless Festival at Pigeon Park, and both years of the Homeground Festival at Oppenheimer Park. Several have been videotaped for re-broadcast on Fearless Television over Shaw TV Vancouver.

The Women's Memorial March is held annually in the district on Valentine's Day, to call attention to missing and murdered women. As of 2009, an estimated 39 women were missing from the Downtown Eastside.[44] The event was initiated by First Nations women in 1992, when the body of Cheryl Anne Joe was found dismembered at the corner of Powell and Salsbury streets. The march has become an annual event to protest the high numbers of women missing and murdered in the community.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "2005/06 Downtown Eastside Community Monitoring Report" (PDF). 10th Edition. City of Vancouver. Spring 2007. Retrieved 10 March 2009. 
  2. ^ "Vancouver myth busters". Vancouver Sun. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  3. ^ "Canada's poorest postal code in for an Olympic clean-up?". The Globe and Mail. 15 August 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  4. ^ Is Vancouver's Downtown Eastside really "Canada's poorest postal code"? Vancouver Sun Community Blogs
  5. ^ a b c Patrick Brethour (13 February 2009). "Exclusive demographic picture: A comparison of key statistics in the DTES, Vancouver, B.C. and Canada". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  6. ^ Milltown to Metroplis, Alan Morley
  7. ^ Early Vancouver, J.S. "Skitt" Matthews
  8. ^ Vancouver History website
  9. ^ Historical Atlas of Vancouver, Peter McDonald
  10. ^ Carnegie Community Action Project
  11. ^ "Demolish City's Skid Road, Murder Protest Demands". Vancouver Sun. 6 April 1962. p.1
  12. ^ [1] "Council defers vote on redevelopment," Metro News, 20 October 2006.
  13. ^ "City of Vancouver DTES Local Area Plan" (PDF). City of Vancouver. 
  14. ^ [2] Guy Babineau, "Poverty and Prejudice, not drugs, fuel BC's HIV rise," The Georgia Straight, 1 December 2005.
  15. ^ Mullens, Anne (28 July 2008). "Insite Works". National Post. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  16. ^ Kay, Barbara (28 July 2008). "The solution is abstinence". National Post. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  17. ^ Matas, Robert (13 February 2009). "The Money Pit". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  18. ^ Thomson, M.; Woodward, J.; BIllows, S.; Greenwell, P. (20 June 2012), "6th Homeless Count in City of Vancouver – March 2012 Significant changes since 2005" (PDF), City of Vancouver  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  19. ^ "Sanctuary of hope?", Vancouver Courier, 5 March 2008, retrieved 18 October 2012 
  20. ^ Patterson, Michelle (Summer 2007). "The Faces of Homelessness Across BC" (PDF). Visions (Vancouver: BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information) 4 (1): 7–8. 
  21. ^ Boyle, Philip; Haggerty, Kevin D. (November 2011), "Civil Cities and Urban Governance: Regulating Disorder for the Vancouver Winter Olympics", Urban Studies 48 (15): 75–83, doi:10.1177/0042098011422391 
  22. ^ Ambrose, Linda (2009), Fostering successful community integration for persons with mental illness living in supported housing in downtown Vancouver: Candela Place, a model for change, Canada: Royal Roads University, ISBN 9780494521663 
  23. ^ Sadiq, Kareem D. (2000), Meeting their Needs?: The Social Support of Mentally Ill Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotel Residents in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada: University of British Columbia 
  24. ^ Paulsen, Monte (22 June 2010). "Mental Illness Leads to Homelessness in BC". The Tyee (British Columbia). Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  25. ^ Toppings, Peter (2010). "Reducing Barriers: Making Services Relevant to LGBT Clients" (PDF). Visions (Vancouver) 6 (1): 21–23. 
  26. ^ Ludvigsen, Mykle (Summer 2007). "Not in My Backyard: Numby alive and well in Vancouver" (PDF). Visions (Vancouver: BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information) 2 (6): 15–16.  Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  27. ^ Slumlords evade real justice Vancouver Courier article by Pete McMartin (2007)
  28. ^ Rich slumlords keep tenants in squalor The Vancouver Sun article by Pete McMartin (2007)
  29. ^ [3] DNC webpage
  30. ^ City of Vancouver Administrative Report: November 2006[dead link]
  31. ^ Baker, Linda (27 December 2007). "Amid Gentrification, Vancouver Seeks Balance". Architectural Record (New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.). Retrieved 7 May 2008. 
  32. ^ "Olympics making Vancouver housing crisis worse: critic". CBC News. 12 February 2007. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  33. ^ Woodward's – The Story of Woodward's
  34. ^ "The Future of Woodward's...". City of Vancouver, Real Estate Services. 29 January 2007. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 17 March 2008. 
  35. ^ [4] City of Vancouver Downtown Eastside Revitalization link
  36. ^ [5] Olympic-related property speculation and its effect on the DTES housing stock: PIVOT Legal Society Report.
  37. ^ [6] Mosaic Art Source website posting of mosaics from the Footprints project
  38. ^ "Mosaic markers trace steps of old Vancouver townsite in Downtown Eastside" (PDF). Western Economic Diversification Canada. 7 August 2011. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  39. ^ [7] Sins of the City video tour, website
  40. ^ [8] CRAB Park area views
  41. ^
  42. ^ [9] Opera Brevé at Four Corners Bank reference
  43. ^ Annual Crab Park Festival –
  44. ^ Elien, Shadi (13 February 2009). "Women's Memorial March to take place on Valentine's Day". Georgia Straight. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 
  45. ^ McDowell, Christine; Lisa Schincariol. "The Global Women's Memorial Website : Creating a circle from which to speak in unison". Canadian Women's Health Network. Retrieved 27 November 2009. 

External links[edit]