Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside: Same Old Spin, Same Old Inaction

Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin wrote a brilliant, cynical piece which you can read here. Fellow blogger and the best talkshow host in Canada, David Berner, beat me to the punch with this witty commentary. But I couldn't resist send this letter into the Vancouver Sun:

Pete McMartin's insightful column about the Downtown Eastside Poverty Industry (DEPI) hit so many chords that my head felt like a church bell tower on a Sunday morning! When exactly did it become acceptable for endless amounts of public money to be spent with absolutely no meaningful, helpful results being achieved? It seems that actually helping the less fortunate has been replaced with feeling good about dialoguing and conferencing with other like-minded holier-than-thou souls. With all this hot air being generated, Stephane Dion and Al Gore should declare this area an environmental hotspot!

I'd love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting of one of these DEPI groups. I'm convinced that the sentiment around the room would be that if we feel good about doing something then that's more important than actually accomplishing anything. Don't worry about the fact that drug use and poverty is actually increasing. That's just a minor technicality.

At the end of the day, everything looks pretty rosy for everyone employed by the poverty industry. Their bills are paid and since things are only getting worse, they have guaranteed job security for life. They've guilted large corporations into making donations, which in turn makes them feel better on the PR front. Nobody loses, right? Well, except for the thousands of people on the Downtown Eastside who are struggling to overcome their addictions and squalid surroundings. As a recovered heroin addict once told me, "I was never able to get myself better until I hit rock bottom." That's a sad fact that no one in DEPI wants to admit.

On a personal note, hearing about more public money being wasted like this especially galls me. Contrast this with the completely volunteer organization I'm involved with, BC Digital Divide. We allow anyone to apply for a computer but are careful that we're not just giving them out to be sold on the street or replace one they've received from us before. Just today I gave out two computers, to two lower income ladies. Indeed, it cost them nothing but I'm fairly confident that they will treat them with great respect and take good care of them. Our efforts are modeled on "a hand up". It seems that all of DEPI programs are based on "a hand out". And anyone who knows they can continually receive a hand out will generally keep on taking it forever.

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