Where is the Downtown Eastside of Your Community?

“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world, is and remains immortal.” ~Albert Pine

There is much that has happened in the last couple of months, one of which includes several members of our team picking up and relocating to different parts of the continent. My husband and I moved from Colorado to Vancouver, BC. I have learned a lot in the transition of moving to a completely new place - to a place that isn’t too different from where we came from, but in the act of changing one’s physical location there is much stirring up that happens in the soul. So much so for me I feel like I’m constantly ruminating and attempting to formulate the revelations that have sprung up in my heart from this new reality that honestly, it has been challenging for me to return back to the writing board.

I decided to write about the biggest thing that has been on my heart lately and impacts this new place I call home —the Downtown Eastside (DTES). This area is the oldest neighborhoods in Vancouver and is one of the poorest in all of Canada. One of the primary negative causes facing people in the DTES is a breakdown of the family structure that has led to an unstable community full of hurting people, many struggling single parent homes, and misunderstood social outcasts. Many issues this community faces include mental illness, drug addiction, HIV infection, prostitution, homelessness and/or inhumane living situations. There are many complexities that have led to the harsh realities facing people in the DTES, and this is in no way a complete explanation or picture, but a glimpse into the challenges people encounter.

But what struck me most was the vibrant rays of hope surrounding that neighborhood. A few weeks ago I was able to see a picture of Vancouver’s response to these difficult circumstances: Homeless Action Week, which is an annual event focused on bringing public awareness and understanding to the issue of homelessness in the Greater Vancouver region.  The week is intended to give the public an opportunity to get involved in homelessness. One of the opportunities was a walking tour called the Eastside Stride with the purpose to break-down misconceptions about the area and help it become a beloved part of Vancouver. The tour guides were people who had lived in the area for countless years and knew of the challenges and hardships first-hand, as well as the bright opportunities available to them through the many compassionate organizations and people in the area. From this tour I learned more about the complexities the people face that grow up and live in this area, but what stood out most clearly were the many people who are shining rays of light and hope in all of the corners of the neighborhood.

The more you learn about those who are homeless or those that society would consider to be social outcasts you see less of “them” and more of each individual person. It’s complicated as there are usually several causes that greatly affect their current situation. Something that I have learned and now attempt to engrain on my heart is- everyone’s story is different. I cannot assume I know what people have gone through and what their life experience has been. This has stood out even more boldly to me since moving to the diverse city of Vancouver. Being in a completely new environment where people from all over the world reside, you learn quickly that it is not wise to assume. This is why it is so vital to learn and experience areas that might be known to be ‘dangerous’ or ‘hopeless.’ Because more often than not, they aren’t – they are full of life and hope.

And we as a community can work together to ignite those vibrant rays of hope. It will take all kinds of people to join in and contribute to the Downtown Eastside, as well as in areas of your city to change the story completely.

Where is the Downtown Eastside of your community? We urge you to seek out and learn about the struggles facing many people in your community, the specific needs, and the organizations that are doing something about it. Chances are there are pockets of people right under your daily radar. Do what you can to help, where you are. The possibilities will open up as you go along.

We all have unique personalities and talents- we all have much to offer and give. The funny thing is, when we give of ourselves- our time, creativities, financial support, or possibly opening up our home to a neighbor is that we receive way more than what we give.  

Just like anywhere else in the world, Vancouver’s citizens are in all different places of life, but there are some who are in more physical and emotional need. As a global community let’s unite to spark those vibrant rays of hope in the darkest of places.

If you would like to learn more about the DTES or events mentioned in this post please contact Stephanie at TheAuthenticityProject@gmail.com.

Stephanie Zeller is the Community Director at The Authenticity Project.