Raising Kids In The DTES – “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. The next wave of real estate refugees will be moving even closer to ground zero.”

A woman smokes crack in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side
[The image illustrating this story in the National Post]

“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]

39 responses to “Raising Kids In The DTES – “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. The next wave of real estate refugees will be moving even closer to ground zero.”

  1. Is it really that important to live close to downtown?

  2. Wow…nice life in the Bestest Best Place on This Here Planet.

  3. Ah yes gentrification, most easily measured by incomes. If one area gentrifies it means another becomes blighted unless real incomes increase region-wide. Something to keep in mind.

  4. Somehow, these people are also speculators… and are sacrificing the childhood of their kids in the process.

    For probably the same cost, or even less, they could rent a similar unit a few blocks away, in Coal Harbour, a much nicer place to raise kids.

    This is really crazy. I wouldn’t do that to my kid.

    • i know you wouldnt. you just wanna move them from one rental to the next. at least, this family secured affordable downtown housing for life. these children withness first hand these helpless people around them; you never know, they would do something to help the poor when they grow up. what do you teach yours, entitlement?

  5. It makes me extremely sad that living here forces people to make choices like this, ones that profoundly impact children’s lives as well as those of the adults involved.

    It also makes me sad that the brainwashing of the Church of Ownership is so strong that someone would prefer to raise their children surrounded by drug addicts, dirty needles, and human shit rather than rent in a nicer area.

  6. I hear there are some skookum deals to be had in Jalalabad too.

  7. Renters Revenge

    DTES isn’t a “dodgy” neighborhood. It’s a complete disaster zone. I can’t imagine why anyone would chose to raise kids there.

  8. From a PropertyDeveloper’s POV – the DES has always been ‘TheFinalFrontier’ (e.g. – Rennie’s new premises/gallery as ‘FortApache’/FrontierOutpost)…

    Proximity. Proximity. Proximity. (and by extension/historical contingency – potentially their most lucrative YVR ‘trade’ to date)…

    Not surprisingly, YVR ‘CityHall’ prefers gentrification…

    [G&M] – Vancouver’s Development Permit Board okays controversial project

    “Vancouver’s Development Permit Board has approved Sequel 138, a proposed six-storey development on East Hastings street in the city’s Downtown Eastside over the objections of some community groups. At a regular meeting Monday, the board approved the project, which had earlier been given a green light by an urban design panel. At the meeting, speakers from community groups including VANDU – the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users – said the building was part of sweeping neighbourhood gentrification that will push out low-income residents of the area”…


  9. Open message to Farmer: Yesterday you accused me of “living under the skirts of others.” (I think you meant “hide behind skirts.”) Now I don’t want to get into a flame war on VREAA’s blog, but this time I had to respond. If there’s anyone here who *isn’t” a skirt-hider, it’s me. Anyone who’s read a few of my posts knows this is my *real* name and quite likely knows within a block where I live (and that I rent, etc). I regularly take my thoughts outside the blogs in the form of CRTC complaints, letters to government and editors, articles, long discussions with TV and newspaper reporters, etc., etc. I always use my real name and I most often post the results. This is the very antithesis of skirt-hiding/living.

    And you know, if I make an error along the way and/or put something in the wrong context, then so be it. I do not have proofreaders here watching my every move, nor am I an economist. But then again, neither are the realtors who consistently advise us to “stop throwing money away on rent” and to “build equity.”

    Those who comment here and try to make a difference, voluntarily I might add, are up against legions of paid real estate salespeople, developers, media types, real estate industry economists, and a government that, IMO, allows all of this madness to continue so their GDP doesn’t suffer. None of us are 100% correct in all we say. You included – yesterday you seemed unclear on the definition of “sub-prime,” for example. But that was a real rip you took at me (you also said you “thought I knew better” and that I should “understand the basic workings of the system”), and the wording was, IMO, confrontational. How can “living under the skirts of others” be considered anything but?

    Having said all that, yes, I misdirected my comments on interest rates. I was feeling a might “enthusiastic” at the time. I will try to watch that in the future. But don’t forget, we’re both railing against a massive force that regularly makes *knowing* bogus claims such as “real estate is the best investment you can ever make,” and “24 reasons why Richmond real estate is booming” (a story/pictorial in today’s online edition of the Vancouver Sun, even while Richmond is swooning). We do what we can do.

    As to the other point you tried to drive home yesterday, that the blame game should end at the feet of the consumers who buy into the madness, ask yourself this: *Why* do they do it? If they weren’t consistently force-fed a diet of bullshit from every conceivable angle (no one can escape the hype – it’s everywhere), if it weren’t so easy to score mega-loans, the story would quite probably be very different. The real estate industry is highly opportunistic. The media-driven deception, the omnipresence of “Buy now or be priced out forever” and “Now is a great time to buy OR sell a home” in the US before the crash and burn was absolutely epic.

    That’s it. I’m out. Sorry for the looong post.

    • Am with you 100%, Gord.

    • The Poster Formerly Known As Anonymous

      And why do they do it?

      Shit, I am one of the most well-informed people regarding the risks of entering the reals estate market in Vancouver that I know, and yet one month ago the wife and I started seriously looking again at sales listings instead of rental listings.


      The roof leaks, the basement leaks, the new downstairs tenant has over twenty teenagers drinking, smoking, spitting, and partying loudly until 4 am about twice a week – we sleep in the living room while marijuana, cigarette, smoke and alcohol fumes drift through the house. The other day he was spraypainting with enamel paint in the suite with all windows closed. There was broken glass and stale beer in the washing machine the day before.

      And when we signed up for another rental, we discovered – after spending 10 hours cleaning the cute little rancher with the hardwood floors and hauling in a new carpet for the loft – that the loft space that the landlord kindly allowed us to use if we finished it ourselves, was full of loose fill vermiculite insulation: asbestos in breathable form. So that’s what those funny little silver pieces of charcoal were that I spent hours sweeping up!!

      I wanted to write the whole story here, but am waiting to see how our application to the RTO goes to get reimbursed for the expenses endured, nevermind the exposure to asbestos (“oh, that stuff? the asbestos inspector said I have to hire a removal firm if I want to demolish the house, but it’s ok if you leave it and don’t disturb it” says the landlord who runs a construction company. Because living on plywood boards on the rafters where you can look down at handfuls of asbestos at every nook and cranny will do nothing but gently tickle the asbestos, so that’s okay then.)

      And I swear, these are not eastside crackshacks we are renting. The houses here, in the prestigious burnaby neighbourghood of buckingham heights/deer lake are full of professionals. The neighbours are furious with our landlord for the indiscriminate way he fills the basement suite in our house. There are no more decent house rentals left in this area, unless you take a chance on sharing with others in a multi-tenanted house. And we are through with that kind of gambling.

      So we are busy as hell moving this weekend into a professionally managed apartment building. Let’s see how it goes this time. If this is a horror show, we are going to buy a townhome even if it means losing 200,000 dollars. It will almost be worth it at these interest rates.

    • The “skirt” criticism was directed to the host, Gord.

  10. You have to be willing to sacrifice your family’s safety if you want to live in the “BPOE”. DTES probably close to the WPOE. Stupidity at its finest.

    • We lived for a while in the new “Crosstown” area, which as you know is adjacent to the ‘hood known as DTES. There were folks openly shooting up in the local park, and used needles scattered everywhere. Not a kid-friendly environment.

      • Smart move exposing your kids to potential HIV infection. Unbelievably desperate and stupid. Get a life Vancouver!

  11. The whole dtes issue drive me nuts. The protestors dont know what they want. They want more social housing, but when a developer offers up land in a different area of Vancouver in exchange for development rights in the dtes they cry foul. YOU DONT BUILD SOCIAL HOUSING FOR ADDICTS AND RECOVERING ADDICTS ON THE MOST DRUG RIDDEN STREET IN NORTH AMERICA. The dtes is not a “community”. Its a cesspool of drugs, hiv and prostitution. If gentrification finally cleans up the eastside then im all for it…Also in some european cities they have a program where they will pay for a one way plane or bus ticket for the homeless so they can go back to where they came from. Vancouver should do this, they would save a lot of $$ in health care/policing.

    • NIMBY.

    • Ralph Klein, former premier of Alberta, once suggested that Alberta would give bus tickets to Vancouver to the homeless and destitute so that they could take advantage of the more generous social assistance there.

      The Tokyo municipal government tried unsuccessfully to ship hundreds of homeless men that lived in Shinjuku station at night to the outskirts of the city by offering them free apartments.

      A Scot MP and others suggested Glasgow should give free heroine to addicts because it would help prevent drug-related crimes and reduce other social costs.

      The DTES problem will not easily be gentrified away.

    • bums as a market phenomenon – i.e. where one supplies handouts, one creates market demand seeking handouts
      ps. presenting only, not advocating

    • I so agree jj.

  12. midnite toker

    I don’t think he’s an idiot or a bad parent,but definitely has some strange priorities.

  13. It is absolutely mind boggling to me that we allow the poverty pimps to ruin what should be one of the most expensive areas in the city: close to downtown and water views. Hopefully gentrification will do its work and push the drug users and others who’ve made very poor life choices out to the suburbs. I applaud this couple for sticking with it and not giving in. I do notice that gentrification seems to be gaining ground. Full steam ahead I say!

    • Drug users who don’t recover won’t wander far from their services. Hopefully, they’ll end up in your building.

      • reality check

        That is why I’m saying get rid of the services. That is a huge part of the problem in keeping the DTES the way it is.

    • Reality Check: What an elitist dork you’ve just shown yourself to be. Some of the folks in the DTES are bad apples; most are mentally ill, or have had tough breaks in life. Rather than whine that they have “ruined” your precious water views, why don’t you propose some constructive ideas? “Pushing them out to the suburbs”, as if they were municipal waste, isn’t helpful.

      And, by the way, how do you reconcile your desire to rid the DTES of its current (low-income) residents with your constant cheerleading of Vancouver’s ridiculously unaffordable real estate prices? You can’t have your cake and eat it too…

      • reality check

        First of all El Ninja, I am not saying that there won’t be a correction in prices but not a correction in the 50% range that VREAA and the rest of you think. Secondly, when you designate an area as the ghetto of the city, especially an area as prime as the DTES, I believe it is a mistake. All the services for drug users etc need to be relocated elsewhere and yes I say out of the city proper to where the land is much much cheaper. If this makes me an elitist dork, so be it.

    • Really pathetic comment, Reality Check. You seem to not know where the problem is coming from. Denial perhaps? Half of Wall Street is on crack while they are busy making the big financial decisions. Drug use is rampant in the professional classes.

  14. How sad that the middle class has been squeezed out of existence to live in areas truly unfit for child-raising. Moreover, how pathetic is the local municipal and provincial government for allowing such acts to continue unabated. It wasn’t always that way in the DTES. They used to have theatres, shops, and a real sense of life and excitement. The mentally ill who have been turned out of the institutions, self-medicating with even more harmful substances, and the lack of morals and effort by the people and the government who represent them has turned the area to a true shame.

    The article expends a good 80% extolling the dangers of the area and why no one would want to live there. Only in the last bit does the author start to expand on the future hopes (the same hopes they’ve had for over a decade and that the buyer has had for over 5 years). The true tragedy is that the housing bubble and economy in general has squeezed the middle-class out of existence while pushing them to “get ahead” by “investing” in the “security” of “their own home” even if that means raising your kids around needles, with feces everywhere, bird-stomping thugs, bus-shelters that cannot be used, prostitution, unsafe daycares, and rebar/baseball bat/sharp metal wielding mentally ill who are so high and carefree they walk out into traffic.

    Then again, he can alway hop the bus to Coal Harbour where the 1% live.

  15. Having walked through and on the outskirts of that area a few times I can see why the poster would expect gentrification to be imminent. It’s SO close in. And the way it is on edge, *something* is imminent.

  16. hey, i just checked … at least army and navy is still there … i loved that place … and woodies up the street … very fond memories … wonder what it looks like now on the inside

    • 4SlicesofCheese

      I have fond memories of Army and Navy and Woodwards growing up, my parents would take me there every weekend.

      My friend worked in Army and Navy a couple years ago and told me one day a man came in dropped his pants and dropped a big dump right in the middle of the store.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s