Scientists take tour of Vancouver’s poorest postal code
By ERICA BULMAN, 24 HOURS
A group of scientists were toured through “Canada’s poorest urban landscape” on Wednesday, to learn how Vancouver deals with the homeless and drug-addicted in the Downtown Eastside.
“We were looking at urban problems that exist all over the world that Vancouver has been successfully addressing,” said Russell Maynard of the Portland Hotel Society. “Probably most succinct to the tour today were addiction and mental health issues in low-income area. One doesn’t cause the other but they all have close correlated relationships.
“The goal today was to show them how Vancouver has some very unique ways of dealing with this.”
Organized by Simon Fraser University and the Portland Hotel Society, the walking tour was billed as a chance to visit “Canada’s poorest urban landscape with visits to new shelters for the homeless and Vancouver’s INSITE safe injection site, the only place in North America where drug addiction is treated as a public health problem rather than a crime.”
“They were interested in the phenomenon of the DTES and the significant steps Vancouver’s been taking over the last 10-15 years in terms of housing, in terms of Insite to deal with these issues,” said SFU criminologist Neil Boyd. “There’s an awful lot of material being published in scientific journals regarding Insite so it was of interest for members of this group … People were able to understand more clearly what Insite does, who it services and what kinds of benefits it provides.”
International delegates and journalists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science convention in Vancouver also walked down East Hastings Street and by Pigeon Park. They stopped at the Woodward’s Project street farms and the Providence Crosstown Clinic to hear about the Salome Project, a clinical trial testing whether the licensed painkiller hydromorphone is an effective substitute for heroin.
Asked whether he felt the tour was akin to a living lab or parading visitors through a zoo, Maynard said “definitely not.”
“I do believe in transparency, that these problems should be talked about,” Maynard said, adding he encouraged the group to interact with residents. “As we were walking, folks in the neighbourhood would come over to ask about the group. I don’t think people can come and see the community without the community coming to see them.
“I think the tour was very respectful. I wouldn’t have taken part of it if I had seen a fish bowl aspect to it.”