“For the past six years, our family has lived just around the corner from the worst stretch of Vancouver’s notorious East Hastings Street, near dismal Pigeon Park. Curiously, we chose to move here while my wife was expecting, about nine years ago. We had found a condo that we could actually afford, so we purchased a unit pre-construction, gambling that the neighbourhood would improve significantly by the time our building was completed. It didn’t. We moved in anyway, hopeful that change was just around the corner. It wasn’t, although the area would improve, eventually. But first, we would spend a few years raising our children in what could generously be described as a disturbing new community.
Housing prices being what they are in Vancouver, I expect that more families will consider taking a chance on “improving” neighbourhoods, as we did. And they will find, as we did, that addicts don’t make the best neighbours. While every user’s personal story is surely tragic, it remains a fact that addiction does terrible things to people. Junkies steal, they prostitute themselves, they leave needles and feces in the streets. The Downtown Eastside may be home to my city’s least fortunate, but it is also, in many cases, home to my city’s least sanitary, least responsible, and least polite. Anybody who thinks drugs are glamorous should spend some time around here.
[Series of stories of DTES encounters at this point. Read the whole article]
So why did we stay here? I suppose it helped, as middle class parents moving into a decidedly un-middle class neighbourhood, that our hopes were not high in the first place. … we were able to ride out the rough patches because we always knew that our time here was optional: either the area would improve or we would leave. Many will never have that choice.
Recently, parts of the neighbourhood have improved, and significantly. A couple of years back, the completion of several residential towers quite rapidly turned our formerly desolate block into an up-and-coming district, complete with overpriced French bulldogs. There are now coffee shops and grocery stores and dry cleaners and pizza places where, not long ago, there was nothing. For years, we were the only fools braving the local playground, dodging the winos and crack heads, checking beneath the monkey bars for needles and broken glass. Today, there are always kids around, there’s a beautiful new daycare just across the street, and funding has just been announced for an elementary school. Heck, these days, even the walk to Gastown isn’t quite as scary.
It took a while, but we bet on gentrification, and – knock on wood – it’s happening. Of course, when a toddler is taken hostage at a daycare, as happened about a year ago just a few blocks away, you do have reservations. And, to be sure, if anything serious had ever happened to a family member – or if my kids paid more attention to their surroundings – I might be telling a completely different story. But, with hindsight, this was a good move for us: we own an affordable home in downtown Vancouver, and I don’t think we could have pulled that off if we hadn’t been willing to take a chance on a dodgy neighbourhood. So, if any parents out there are considering a similar choice, it can be done, but you will need to stay alert, avoid the clearly problematic individuals and situations, and hope that your kids won’t be exposed to anything too extreme. And good luck, because the next wave of real estate refugees will be moving even closer to ground zero.”
- excerpts from ‘Mike Comrie: Raising kids amid the hookers, junkies and drunks of Vancouver’s worst neighbourhood’, National Post, 20 Apr 2012
[hat-tip Aldus Huxtable]