I was talking with some people today about the history of the last 10 years around the Downtown Eastside. I got home and felt exhausted, and promptly fell asleep for a very rare afternoon nap. The conversation makes me tired, and reminds me of all the energy I have given towards a problem that very few people seem to be committed to solving. We can talk about the history, depict the struggle for harm reduction, human rights, and it goes on, and we should talk about it. I left that discussion feeling uninspired and sad. All the people I met with are passionate and committed people. However, what continues to this day in the Downtown Eastside, is a collection of people who hold power and will not let go,who are just as guilty as our governments for not responding to the crisis that has happened here in the last 20 years, who are stuck in their ideas of who deserved care and kindness and who doesn’t, who is right and who is wrong, who has better politics, who is really doing harm reduction, who is actually saving people and on it went and on it goes.
The war is on people, not on drugs. Many would argue, but it comes down to being about people and the drugs and the money are just ways of getting us to hurt each other and ourselves. Our not so free market economy is designed to create winners and losers, and we need to be at war in order for that system to function. What the hell would happen if decisions were made based on what was best for the environment and our communities, and that people knew what it felt like to have enough, and feel like they are enough. I imagine the war would end.
I continue to this day to feel traumatized by my time on the corner of Main and Hastings, all the death, the violence, the complacency, the manipulation, the self-righteousness, and the ignorance. I remember this one day so clearly in my head, it was July 21st 2001 and one of my last days on the Carnegie Street Program. The day started off with hearing about Dave, a much-loved regular at Carnegie dying and moved to sitting with this amazing woman named Rhonda in the alley behind the Carnegie Centre with my co-worker Dixie. We were treating her wounds which had reopened; her muscle tissue was exposed and it was clear she had been through a lot of physical and emotional trauma, she had in fact been dragged 100 ft by a car driven by a bad date she had. Her spirit however was far from crushed; she had us laughing for a long time. I had some herbal medicine that she was happy to use on her wounds, it was medicine she knew from her own First Nations traditions, we talked, brought her down lunch, hugged and said goodbye. Soon after a young boy about 13 yrs old from Honduras was walking around looking lost, said he was there to meet a woman from a Street Church ministry, his English was not good, so I asked someone I knew to translate. His story kept changing, he was here with his brother, they came from Seattle, his parents were here, not here, some people suggested he may have been a drug carrier. I made a few calls to see who could help him, but no one was around, it was Saturday. I took him upstairs to Carnegie, bought him dinner, he laughed at my feeble attempts at Spanish and my use of charades to talk to him. There wasn’t much to do, so I had introduced him to a Latin American guy I knew who was a regular at Carnegie and really nice( but I’m forgetting his name), and asked him to look out for him while he was around, hugged him goodbye and wished him luck.
I went home, and did what I did everyday that I worked out there, lie down look at the ceiling think about what happened and then wake up the next morning and think of how things could be better, how this can be solved, how the war against each other will end. I realized that day, that there aren’t enough people who want It to end, there are too many people in fact who depend on things to stay exactly as they are, they have people to support, missions to accomplish, and a fundamental belief that nothing can be done, except what is being done, and that’s just the way it is. So I realized that day something about myself, that I need to believe things will be different, that the war can end, and that we are all capable of more than maintaining a social condition that limits all of us. That my hope lies in looking at what drives us to addiction, rather than the addiction. That our spirits are what’s at stake, what’s up for grabs to anyone and anything that will fill the void, and that our spirit is what requires harm reduction, treatment, prevention and re-enforcement. My hope lies with people who don’t have an answer but have the will and the energy to make a difference. My hope lies with people who are out on the street and not connected to organizations, but create family and support in the face of tremendous challenges. My hope lies with me, and with you, because ultimately it is up to all of us to create a better world and to do better for each other, because we are all capable of way more than this.