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Jeffrey Sommers

Housing, Health and Income Security: Human Rights in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Date Recorded: Mar 28th, 2006
Recorded At: Vancouver, BC
Recorded By: Necessary Voices Society
Duration: 59:00  

Topic Background

The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver has been repeatedly called “ Canada’s Worst Neighbourhood”, but it depends on who is describing this part of the city.

In writings about the neighbourhood, Jeff Sommers links the area’s current state with the gentrification of other areas. The open drug market along Hastings Street, the downtown eastside’s “main strip”, appeared at precisely the same time that condos were being built in adjacent Gastown and in other parts of the downtown peninsula. The sex trade shifted to East Vancouver at the same moment other inner city and downtown neighbourhoods were gentrifying.

“The City’s police, responding to political pressure exerted by resident groups in gentrifying neighbourhoods around the Central Business District, began relocating the street-drug and sex trades to the Downtown Eastside, thus intensifying the scope and expanding the scale on which those activities took place there,” writes Sommers.

“That which now characterizes the neighbourhood–the open drug market, the deepening poverty and desperation, the run-down streetscape–are products of the same forces which induced the proliferation of condo towers, art galleries, restaurants, cafes, night clubs, heritage neighbourhoods, and inner city middle class consumers,”

Local residents explain that the history of the neighbourhood as a bustling, engaged and active community came from industrial workers and trade unionists whose response to social problems has been to organize. Consumer trend towards “suburban shopping, large malls and big box stores,” displacement in the wake of Expo ‘86 and the de-institutionalization of people with mental illness have all worked to concentrate poverty in the area, and reflect its current state.

Jeff Sommers explains the history of the area and how these changes to the neighborhood have affected the lives of its residents.

Speaker Biography

Jeff Sommers is a Vancouver-based researcher on housing and social-policy issues. Prior to co-founding the Strathcona Research Group in 2002, he taught social and cultural geography at Simon Fraser University

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