Until I moved to the DTES, I was unfamiliar with the crisis of homelessness and poverty. There are approximately 11,000 homeless across BC, with 2500 homeless in the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Those who are homeless are disproportionately Native and most are suffering from some kind of physical or mental health issue or disability.
Most people do not realize the impact that being homeless has on people’s lives. I was only homeless for three months, while many others are homeless for years, even decades. I cannot even begin to comprehend how people survive through the serious physical and psychological consequences on one’s well-being. The impacts of homelessness include feelings of isolation, spread of infectious disease, and health deterioration from exposure to cold and wet weather, and lack of safety and privacy especially for women.
Despite all the hardships that I passed through, I have been fortunate enough to find secure housing and to access a variety of programs in the DTES. I became a volunteer at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre for five years and joined the DTES Power of Women Group.
The DTES Power of Women Group exposes the systemic issues in our neighbourhood and this is important because I still see the faces of the homeless who are in need of housing, shelter, food, clothing, addiction supports, health services, and so much more. The DTES Power of Women
Group helps people everywhere understand the depth of the problems surrounding the DTES.
Amongst other issues, the DTES Power of Women Group believes that safe, supported, and long-term affordable housing should be available immediately for those who are homeless and under-housed. In the interim, though shelters are only a band-aid solution, they should remain open all-year around and not just during the winter. I also think the government needs to provide free storage for all homeless people so the homeless do not have to worry about paying rent for storage or guarding their shopping cart all day long. Loss of one’s belongings and personal possessions such as photographs and memorabilia takes an unquantifiable emotional toll.
The DTES Power of Women Group also feels that the condominium developments in Chinatown and the DTES are having a negative effect on low-income residents, who are being displaced and pushed out from the neighbourhood. Many of us from the group, as well as other DTES residents, recently spoke out at City Hall to let the Mayor and City Council know how we felt about this issue and to raise our concerns about their undemocratic plans.
There are many faces to homelessness. Never judge someone else because you never know if you might end up homeless. I never expected it, but I became homeless. Coming from a past of divorce and losing my home, to where I am now, has been a tremendous journey. I can say the DTES has now become my home, a place where I have friends, and spaces where I know my voice will be heard!
Patricia D. Haram is a volunteer in the Downtown Eastside and member of the DTES Power of Women Group. This story is part of the Downtown Eastside Power of Women “Power Hour” column.