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Sex and Drugs and Paranoid Schizophrenia

Vancouver has mountains and beaches and an ocean and vice. Lots of vice.
December 1, 2000, 12:00am

Vancouver has mountains and beaches and an ocean and vice. Lots of vice. Historic Chinatown was built atop a labyrinth of underground tunnels, bathhouses and opium dens. Thanks to the quality of our strip clubs and streetwalkers, our sex trade is ranked second in the "World's Seven Best Cities of Sin" (as seen on "Hardcopy"). Currently, there are over 8000 large-scale pot growing operations pumping BC bud into world markets, and we have the attention of the American DEA (flying surveillance choppers in the province's interior) to prove it. Thanks in part to our own Port Police downsizing and thousands of miles of unmonitored coastline, crack and heroin have become cheap and plentiful here over the last ten years. Just down the hill from the yuppie-fied cannabis cafes, at the corner of Main and Hastings, you can buy $5 rocks, $2 pipes, and $10 points.

Vancouver's Hastings Street (specifically the four blocks between Main and Cambie) has been taken over by users and pushers and their friends the mentally insane. There is no other area like this in the industrialized world. AIDS and addiction officials from Frankfurt and Zurich have come to analyze the social situation recently and the verdict is unanimous: there is a unique and seriously troubling epidemic going on here.

What was once a premier North American row of neon-lit hotels and lounges in the 50s has since dilapidated into a destitute crack haven. Zombie people wander the street and comb its sidewalk for drugs, riddled with hep and, proportionately, the highest incidence of HIV-positive population outside of Nairobi. Ironically, most two-bit hard-drug transactions are conducted just kitty-corner from the main Vancouver police station. To compound matters, the blue meanies recently announced that we currently have a serial killer preying on the area's hookers – 41 women are missing at last count. Then again, it's difficult to keep track of exactly what the numbers are in the marginalized portion of the Downtown Eastside population. These deteriorated hotels and buildings house almost 5000 addicts and certifiable mental patients. 

The province's largest psychiatric hospital, Riverview, whose peak occupancy level reached 4,500 patients in the mid-50s, has been going through an official downsizing since 1991. Their official bed count is now just 812. Paranoid-delusionals, compulsive-obsessives, and manic-depressives without benefit of a family have been outpatiented into the community, and many have ended up on the streets. Now they're not just crazy, they're crazy and on strong drugs. Not the meds they need to retain a semblance of sanity, but crack, primarily. The only plus is Canada's gun policy – if this were the US, Vancouver would be worse than the Wild West.

Vancouver maybe a pretty town but with one heroin addict dying every day and the highest incidence of property crime (i.e. B&E's for drug money) in the country, the tourism industry has its challenges. The mountains are lovely, the beaches are soft and the ocean-view is like some unreal Jonathan Livingston Seagull backdrop, but we've got more social problems than the rest of Canada put together. So beware. Not only does the toothless guy begging you for change have AIDS, he is also high on smack, totally insane and he has a knife.