The weird thing about Vancouver is that the distinction between different areas in our city is really visible. In some cities, you’ll enter a new neighbourhood and see a few extra hemp shops, a Food Co-Op and then, get that faint smell of Nag-Champa in the air and think, “This must be where the hippies are at.” Not in Vancouver. In Vancouver, you walk down the “hippy” area of Commerical Drive and all you can hear is drum circle noise competing with the sound of free-spirited bare feet slapping the pavement while every second store sells hand-woven sandals, Eco-friendly napkins or glutton-free, soy-infused pound cakes. In some ways, it’s kind of great. It lets you know where you stand, literally, but there is a lot of things you don’t see in Vancouver. Vancouver has a lot going on underneath the first impression and it’s complicated to understand all the opinions involved. That’s why I’m glad David Eby answers my annoying emails. David Eby is like the cool, smart guidance counsellor we all crushed on in high school. He’s young, attractive yet kind of nerdy, which makes him approachable and not terrifying, despite the years and educational experience he has on you. He’s quick-witted, opinionated and breaks the rules, intelligently. If Eby had actually had been my guidance counsellor, I probably would have failed Math on purpose. But Eby is not a high school counsellor. He’s a 34-year-old civil rights lawyer, a published author, the Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, an adjunct professor of law at the University of British Columbia, President of the Canadaian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Oh yeah, and he is also plays in a band when he’s not busy trying to change provincial policies. Every time I talk to Eby, even if it's only for five minutes, he introduces me to something new. I’ll ask a question. He’ll tell the story then go, "Isn't that fucked up?" And usually it is pretty fucked up. I asked Eby for a counselling session to tell me his top "fucked up" things in Vancouver, just in more eloquent words.
THE RIGHT FOR PEOPLE WITH ADDICTIONS TO BE TREATED AS HUMAN, AND TO HAVE THE CHANCE TO QUIT
What Eby Says:
"As our federal government moves to increase police contact, arrests, and mandatory sentences for people with drug addictions, local advocates, police and even judges are trying to find funding for drug treatment and harm reduction programs. There are days, and sometimes weeks-long waits for detox, which most treatment programs require before admitting someone. In Vancouver, many people go to “day-tox” or “day treatment” in the middle of North America’s largest open drug market. Homeless chronic alcoholics, who are addicted to a legal substance, drink rubbing alcohol, mouthwash, hand sanitizer or hairspray during the day and spend their nights being picked up by ambulances or guarded by police in jail. Innovative programs used elsewhere, like sobering centres and managed alcohol programs, that treat these folks like human beings in other cities can’t seem to get started in Vancouver."
B.C.’s safe injection site has reduced over-doses, the spreading of disease and criminal activity and even though the Harper government tried to get the site closed earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled it stay open. When illegal drugs are involved, I get the challenge between obeying criminal law on a federal level and providing public health care on a provincial level, but alcohol isn’t illegal. Sobering Centers in Eastern Canada (namely Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa) have been a successful form of harm reduction for alcoholics.
A Sobering Center would also create more jobs. Half the people I know work for Insite and other harm reduction services like this. These are not easy jobs, but they are important jobs and they are jobs that you can get in social assistance without training, but learn as you progress.
What would we lose from having a Sobering Center? Clearly not money, as a recent study proved that in B.C. the average homeless adult with severe addictions costs the public system more than $55,000 per year, while provision of adequate support would reduce this to $37,000. What’s the point of dragging a homeless alcoholic to the drunk tank every single night, only to release him out hours later, slightly sober and have the cycle repeat all over again?
THE RIGHT FOR WOMEN WORKING AS SURVIVAL SEX WORKERS TO EQUAL POLICE PROTECTION
What Eby says:
"A public inquiry in B.C. into the policing of the sex trade here has revealed that women involved in the survival sex trade, usually women with addictions, mental health issues and other serious vulnerabilities, were ignored by police for years. The inquiry is delving into the serial murders of these women who walked the streets of one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods. “They’re just hookers,” one senior Vancouver Police Department officer was quoted as saying during the hearings. Other officers called the women “whores”, and many officers expressed the opinion that the women had chosen a high risk profession where they got what they deserved if they were assaulted, raped or killed. This inquiry, with all of its failings (including shutting out the very women it is intended to benefit), is at least increasing consensus around the idea that everybody, equally, is deserving of minimum standards of police services."
Cops treat women in the sex trade like shit. How long has this been an issue everywhere? This year the B.C. Missing Women's Inquiry opened up an eight month investigation to look at the police mishandling of the infamous Robert Rickton investigation - Pickton was the B.C. pig farmer who was convicted of six murders of women in 2007 and later bragged to police that he actually killed 49 - and why the women, especially those who were working in the sex trade, were not better protected.
When I volunteered with a non-profit women’s organization, a big part of our job was to answer crisis calls. The typical thing they prepped us for was something like a woman calls in, tells you she was picked up but the John disagreed with her request to use a condom. She refused to service him so, he raped her and took off with her purse in his car. It feels fucked up to know that this woman is calling you, some volunteer at a tiny, woman-run organization, instead of the police. It feels fucked up to think what would happen if she did call the police. Fact of the matter is, she wouldn’t, so she doesn’t. And that dude just gets away with the crime of rape and theft. I’m not saying that all cops are bad. What I am saying is that, whether they realize it or not, a lot of people don’t have the most open-minded attitude towards women in the sex industry and sometimes those people wear a uniform.
THE RIGHT TO SHELTER
What Eby Says:
"Instead of the number of homeless getting smaller in Canada, it’s getting bigger. Our homeless population in major Canadian cities now includes more and more people who are working full time, who still can’t make rent and who stay in emergency shelters. The failure of our federal and provincial governments to fund adequate social and supportive housing means we’ll end up paying more for policing, jails, emergency shelters, and hospital stays."
Vancouver is expensive. Seriously. Maybe rent in major U.S. cities like New York and San Francisco surpasses our average rates by a couple hundred bucks, but things like food, transit and alcohol are way more expensive in Vancouver. You can’t even get a pack of domestic cigarettes for under $7 anymore. Domestic cigarettes! I remember last year I was working full-time at a minimum wage job but only paying only $350 in rent - which is unheard of, I have friends who rent closets that cost more - and I was barely squeezing by. It’s not like I was spending all my money on fun things either. Everything went to rent, transit to get to work, bills and cigarettes.
A few weeks ago First United Church was allowing homeless people to sleep on the kitchen floor - and Housing Minister Rich Coleman had to publicly address the issue when Mayor Gregor brought it to the media. Coleman also said that "30% of the people in First United have homes and they should go to those homes" which neglects to address the issue of why people wouldn't be at those homes. First United responded, defending their stance. Regardless, the B.C. government has agreed to spend $1 million on two new shelters. Will this be enough? For now, probably, but as our city becomes more desirable, it’s just going to get more expensive. That’s life, right? It sucks if you are not rich.
Every city has problems. Every city has policy wars between citizens and government. Every city has a population that desperately needs a strong voice, but doesn’t have one. That’s why it’s important that we have guidance counsellors like Eby. I mean, who else is going to take the students complaints to the principle and have them be heard?
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