WHERE TO TAKE A DUMP IN JUNKIE LAND?
*Drug users, the mentally ill and homeless people in the DTES spend so much time in washrooms, and often make such a mess and even destroy them, it is tough for anybody else to answer nature’s call.
*The thousands of staff of the 250 agencies located in the DTES have their own staff toilets so they don’t give a shit about the comfort of “straight johns” – non drug-users, homeless and mentally ill.
*Private business owners are pulling their hair out, and sometimes even shutting up shop, because of drug users constantly harassing them about using toilets and customers complaining of unusable toilets.
* Government agencies and non-profits who serve clients from the three target groups – drug users, homeless and mentally ill, have a duty to provide enough toilets, to monitor their use and make sure they are cleaned regularly. They also have a duty to educate their clients not to dominate and destroy toilets in coffee shops etc.
By MR NEGATIVE
(Mr Negative is a new column in THE CROWS, in which writers either alone or in a group get to spew their guts, anonymously, about things that make them unhappy. It is hardcore.
If this column offends you here is our advice. We will not take emails re Mr Negative, not going to happen, so it’s gotta be snail-mail. Write down what has upset you, in nice clear handwriting, put the letter in an envelope and put a pretty stamp on it. Then write our address on the envelope. Finally, bend over and stick the letter up your arse, because that’s how we feel about hurting your feelings).
So here goes:
If housing is a natural right, and Mr Neg believes it should be, then surely going to the toilet in peace should be a fundamental human right too. We consider this truth to be self-evident. But the right to poop, defecate, excrete, crap and/or shit must not be taken for granted because if we are not vigilant we will be caught with our pants down, heh heh.
And for the most part expunging the bowels, on demand, is not a major hurdle. Unless one lives in the DTES that is and uses certain public utilities and coffee shops and bars and stores between Cambie and Clark. Then the Downtown Eastside becomes the Browntown Beastside, as you shall see.
For flying fuck’s sake my lovely fluffy kittens, 17 giant flaming albino wombats in a tub of rancid lard, Mr Negative is steaming this week! No matter how many chill pills ol’ Professor Reverend Neggy consumes there is an endless stream of annoyances one is forced to endure in these trying times.
We all suffer directly and indirectly from the housing and drug overdose crises, but there is a side effect that only those of us who actually LIVE here even know about. For most people when they are out and about in Metro Vancouver or other city, away from home, and they need to “go,” to vacate their bowels or urinate or both, then they can go to a washroom in a coffee shop, restaurant, bar or shop, community centre or library or wherever.
This simple option is increasingly unavailable to the hapless “average” Downtown Eastsider. And the reason is simple: drug users, homeless people and the mentally ill, and there is a growing army of them as well all know, occupy the toilets for such long periods they are simply not available for much of the day and the night. And their occupation more often than not renders said toilet unusable afterwards, for hours until they are cleaned, or for days and even weeks because sometimes they damage the facility so badly it is closed until repaired.
Let’s be specific. Mr Negative has personally experienced this state of affairs, more than once, at the following restrooms: Carnegie community centre, Waves coffee shops at both Main & Pender and Main & Cordova, London Drugs, Lost and Found cafe, Subway, Starbucks, Evelyn Saller, Strathcona Community Centre, Strathcona ‘Necamat’ branch of Vancouver Public Library, the public restrooms at International Village Mall, aka Tinseltown, Funky Winkerbeans, the Regent Bar, the Savoy and the Empress. The toilets inside some of the rougher SROs are almost permanently out of order, the Regent in particular.
Now, to be sure, all people have a right to use toilets in public facilities such as Carnegie community centre, and if they buy something they can use the toilets at coffee shops, restaurants, bars and stores. Often drug users, homeless people and the mentally ill – and the very old and physically ill – do not buy anything and because of their obvious need, proprietors allow them to use the restrooms anyway.
It is considered unacceptably gentrificatious (yes, a new word, just made it up), snobbish and Zone of Exclusionary not to allow anyone and everyone to use the loo upon demand. Would-be toiletgoers are invariably keen to promise to be quick and not to commit any mischief. Mr Negative has frequently witnessed this firsthand. Then once in possession of the Golden Key and taking occupation of the sacred room, drug users spend up to an hour in there shooting up or smoking or drugging in one form or another. Homeless folk have a basin bath and sort out their bags. Mentally ill people just do mental shit. In the wake of their use the restroom is often mangled past the point of utility. It is a non-toilet.
Mr Negative is among the many more or less normal people who does not understand why drug users persist in using public restrooms to shoot up. Consider this:
* there are SEVEN overdose prevention sites in the DTES where people can shoot up safely (see list below);
* there is to all intents and purposes no stigma at all about shooting up in public anywhere in the DTES core, the Oppenheimer area of 20 square blocks. Hundreds of users are constantly shooting up outside;
* Many of the users have homes in which they can shoot up, alone or with others. Why do they go to public restrooms, alone, to do it?
* Why do so many drug users FUCK UP the restroom in the process of shooting up? They cannot be so high so soon after injecting, they just use the toilet for the injecting or smoking part, not the being high afterwards part.
Please help Mr Negative and others understand this if you get it.
Every DTES agency that deals with drug users, the homeless and mentally ill has almost completely capitulated to them. The “rights” of these groups to do whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want, goes pretty much unquestioned. Vancouver Coastal Health, the Portland Hotel Society, Lookout, Atira and of course VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) are totally unsympathetic to the grievances of the non-junkies and businesses who have the fucking audacity to want to run a private business in the DTES or to patronize said business with the expectation that the toilets will not be a disgusting holocaust.
Why do these agencies not commit some of their funding to providing toilets for their clients? Or hiring staff to monitor the toilets that do exist, to not allow them to be used for injecting etc and to clean them promptly and properly if they are? Are private businesses really expected to provide this service, even though it is blatantly obvious they – and their customers – suffer from this zombie shitting onslaught?
Part of the reason must be that the staff at these agencies all have their own staff toilets so they don’t give a 14-day-old continental dried dog’s turd for the comfort of others. It is every person for themselves in the toilet wars.
Mr Negative notices there is a very obvious double standard at work. Junkies absolutely insist on being treated with dignity and respect and as adults, but they are absolutely free to behave completely irresponsibly and selfishly. Perhaps it is not surprising that the total narcissism which lies at the very heart of addiction results in hardcore addicts not giving a shit about anybody else.
See this story and about 50,000 others online about the clear link between narcissism and addiction:
Now, it is true that drug users are not a monolithic united single community anymore than people with red hair are a community, but the organizations that represent them never acknowledge that even in a tiny little way drug users might not always be totally and completely in the right.
VANDU bigmouth Karen Ward is one of the most obnoxious humans currently going as any kind of “activist” and that is saying something in this town. Ward, who must surely be the biggest hypocrite around as she lives in the social housing of the Woodwards building, the single development most vilified by VANDU as a vile gentrifier, never rests in taking the high moral ground in anything and everything to do with drugs and taking them and indeed anything affecting the whole of the Downtown Eastside.
No real attempt is made, ever, to have drug users dispose of their needles in any of the DOZENS of receptacles provided for the purpose. No, just drop the wretched disease-carrying detritus wherever you choose man, it’s a free country.
Ward wants overdose prevention sites in parks as well now, rather than encouraging drug users to simply discard their needles somewhere other than wherever they want and in any fashion they choose. A recent report in the Metro newspaper says: “Park board staff say they would welcome more funding to help keep parks clean of needles but a housing and drug-reform advocate says more drastic action, like setting up overdose prevention sites in parks, is needed to tackle the source of the problem.”
Metro says: “Vancouver city council and park board are scheduled to discuss motions in two weeks that would give the board more resources to deal with ongoing complaints about drug paraphernalia in parks. In their motions, Coun. George Affleck and parks commissioner John Coupar suggest that funding a 24/7 staff presence in parks would keep them free of needles, a request from several neighbourhood groups in the downtown area.
“Yes, we could use more resources,” said Howard Normann, director of parks. But I’m not sure if having rangers between 1am and 5am would really make that much of a difference.”
The Metro story says that rangers patrol Andy Livingstone Park until 11pm every night and there are two mobile crews that visit parks throughout the city until about 10pm, depending on where they are needed, according to Normann.
“We’re not paying overtime for rangers at the moment. We’re using the resources that we currently have.” The park board employs about 50 rangers to patrol 230 parks. But 10 per cent of the parks take up the majority of resources, said Normann, adding: “Andy Livingstone is a classic example of that, and Crab Park – parks in the Downtown Eastside.”
Ward says hiring more rangers, in fact, puts more people in danger. “It makes people hide even more, which puts them in more danger given the situation of overdoses,” she said. “Instead of having rangers and police, we should think about setting up overdose prevention sites in parks and meeting people where they’re at and connecting them with services that they need most immediately.”
Metro reports that Normann said he is open to the idea. “If someone wants to bring that idea to the park board they are more than welcome to.” He added park board staff are also partnering with the Portland Housing Society to bring their program, Spikes on Bikes – where volunteers with naloxone kits respond to overdoses – to Vancouver’s parks. Spikes on Bikes has now expanded to Creekside and Hinge parks in Olympic Village, Normann confirmed.
“When you have people that know the community, its really helpful because they can get to places most people can’t and they do a great job.” Both Affleck and Coupar’s motions also include references to the need for more housing options for those with mental health and addiction issues.
Note that Ward is not concerned at all about the danger that abandoned needles might present to OTHER PEOPLE, including children who want to do old-fashioned things such as kick a ball in a park, and thereby trespass on junkie turf, which is all parks in the city and indeed the entire metro area and perhaps the province. So now we should have an additional two overdose prevention sites – at Andy Livingston Park and at Crab Park, is that what we are hearing? So that would be NINE designated places. Where does it end, this business about “meeting people where they are at?” What does that even mean? Which parks, if any, should not host an overdose prevention site, one would like to know. Already 10 percent of the parks are using the majority of resources.
Is it unacceptable to ask drug users to use one of the seven existing overdose prevention sites or restrict their public drug taking and needle disposal to the square kilometer that is the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District? Is the entire city fair game?
Ward says society has a duty to “connect” drug users “with the services that they need most immediately.” Everyone in society has a duty to cater to the needs of drug users first and foremost.
There are more than 200 agencies employing more than TWO THOUSAND PEOPLE already doing that in the DTES, and nothing changes for the better. The truth is that a lot of drug users are not just hard to house, they are unhousable. And they want few services other than the complete freedom to use whenever, wherever and however they want.
Are drug users victims who have been traumatized by society? Yes, for the most part. Does that mean society must yield to and cater to their every want and whim? No. Does it mean society can have some expectations of drug users in general and of organizations serving drug users, such as VANDU. Yes. Does VANDU agree with that? You better ask them.
Furthermore, junior reporters like Wanyee Li of the Metro paper and other papers need to stop giving so much ink to incessant media junkies such as VANDU and the Carnegie Action Project, and to give some attention to organizations that actually represent majority DTES opinion – such as the Inner City Safety Network and the Community Economic Development Strategic Action Committee. The latter has more than 40 organizations as members, and represents vastly more individuals than VANDU and Carnegie Action put together. But their members are neither homeless, drug users or mentally ill, so their rights are of little concern.
Just recently VANDU was on its high horse again about what it calls the injustice of landlords wishing to manage the behaviour of drug addicts in any way so they are not so extremely disruptive to other tenants in their buildings, and indeed to each other. It is widely known that many SRO buildings in the DTES are almost impossible to sleep in because drug users do not keep regular hours and are as likely to be awake and active and noisy at 3am, 4am and 5am as others are at those times in the afternoon.
And of course most drug addicts do not care for the sleep or experience of others because, as we have seen, it is all about them.
So in closing VANDU, PHS, Atira, Lookout, Vancouver Coastal Health et al – DO SOMETHING about this situation, it is your duty.
Overdose prevention sites and safe injection sites in the DTES Oppenheimer District, in no particular order:
1. Molson OPS (Overdose Prevention Site), old Molson Bank building, 166 East Hastings Street (between Regent Hotel and Carnegie Centre).
2. Maple OPS, 177 East Hastings Street (in alley off north side of East Hastings, next to Maple Hotel (former Washington Needle Exchange);
3. VANDU, 380 East Hastings Street;
4. Area 62, alley behind 62 East Hastings Street.
5. Powell Street Getaway, 528 Powell Street.
6. Sister Space, 135 Dunlevy Street.
7. InSite, 139 East Hastings Street.
8. Downtown Community Health Centre, 569 Powell Street (informal – staff here have told Mr Negative they allow drug users to use the washrooms to inject)
9. Former Drug User Resource Centre, 412 East Cordova Street (informal).
* Also, every one of the dozens of “harm reduction” housing facilities in the DTES.