Hope for Hastings: An Introduction
According to The Economist’ Liveability Report, which takes into account health care, education, infrastructure, culture and environment, Vancouver ranks as the third most livable city in the entire world. Yet, Vancouver is also known for being the home of “poorest postal code” in all of Canada.
The stark contrast between six blocks of Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver is utterly eye opening. From the high-end luxury stores to the rancid back alleys, this is our community.
It wasn’t always like this. The Downtown Eastside is the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver, rich with heritage and culture. Oppenheimer Park, Chinatown, the Coast Salish waters all contributed to the beauty of Vancouver. It was the centre of the city equipped with rail transit, a shopping district, and commerce.
However, during the Great Depression, downtown Vancouver became the hub for unemployed people to demonstrate and drown their sorrow and suffering in alcohol. Soon, the streetcars stopped running down Hastings, the main library relocated and larger consumer centres made its home in the west marginalizing those that could no longer afford to live in the new downtown. Moreover, psychiatric patients were deinstitutionalized to make way for new developments driving them to the more accepting community now known as the Downtown Eastside.
Today, the V6A community has a high concentration of poverty, mental illness, disease, addiction, homelessness and crime. Many have heard of the horror and danger that is associated with East Hastings Street, but how many have taken the time to wander East Hastings and observe what is actually there.
To the surprise of many, I have slowly fallen in love with the Downtown Eastside. Everyday, as I get off the bus at Main and Hastings, I see smiles, people shouting to friends across the street, and people caring for one another, sharing what little resources they have. Indeed, the Downtown Eastside is an accepting community where all are welcome and few have the pride and inhibition to hide their flaws.
The Downtown Eastside has a speed limit of 30km/hour. So many people just try to pass by as quickly as possible or simply avoid the area altogether. It is the part of town, most people wished did not exist to tarnish Vancouver’s reputation and beauty, but how many stop to recognize the humanity in these hurt, lost, and marginalized people? How many take time to look for the beauty and hope in the Downtown Eastside? Where is Christ in all of this?
Journey with me as I explore the Downtown Eastside; tackle issues of homelessness, addiction, gentrification; and find hope.