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Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside: A Campaign for Change

Note: This is a guest post written by my brother, Everett Bumstead. Currently living in Vancouver, Everett walks through the Downtown Eastside to and from school each day. For those unfamiliar with the area, it is otherwise known as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” But what if we look beyond the labels? Maybe we could learn something new. Be sure to check out his film campaign after the post!

I remember one day when I was young, I was in Toronto with my dad and I had my first confrontation with a homeless man. He asked people for change and I watched them decline. Later, it was explained to me that if I had given that man change, he might have just spent the money on drugs. This way he’s better off.

It made sense.

Now, living in Vancouver for the first time, I walk through the Downtown Eastside every day on my way to school. A bit of my recent research has taught me this place is home to 4,600 injection drug users, with an 87 per cent Hepatitis C rate and roughly one out of every three is HIV positive. It is nearly an everyday occurrence for me to see someone passed out drunk or smoking crack in plain view on the sidewalk.

As a responsible citizen looking at these people, it’s easy for me to say I know what’s best for them, and that my nickels and dimes would just be going to waste. The difference between me and these people is that they don’t live within their means. Their money goes to their addictions. Meaning, their expenses are more than their income.

But wait a minute; I haven’t made any money in months. I go to school every day on borrowed money.

This got me thinking. It got me thinking about how many people I know who will spend their entire lives paying off a mortgage they could never afford. It is the status quo to live outside of our means. We are well aware the world’s supply of fossil fuels is quickly declining, and yet we still buy new cars. The only difference is, as Canadians, most of us haven’t hit the bottom yet.

If you don’t see the similarities, think of Detroit, Michigan. Once home to a booming economy, Detroit was the birthplace of the assembly line and the automobile industry. Due to poor planning and to a community of people all living an unrealistic lifestyle, the city took a turn for the worse. The unemployment rate in Detroit is now over 30 per cent. The abandoned buildings and industrial decay of the city is unbelievable.

Natural resources are our heroin. We do not live in a world that can support our addiction to consumption, and sooner or later we’re going to run dry.

This gave me a new understanding for the homeless person. It is prejudice for me to say I know what’s best for the guy who asks me for change. We are a society that has a flawed philosophy towards living. The poverty-stricken, the homeless, these are people who have fallen victim to a circumstance not so far from our own.

When I started thinking this way, I found myself caring a lot more about the issue. Even more, I found respect for those who have been caught up living outside of their means. Now when someone asks me for change, they don’t seem like as much of a stranger, but more of a friend.

I think we need to understand the problem, respect the people and recognize that we’re not so different. This is the solution to the problem, not simply whether I decide to share my change or not.

You can be a part of the solution too. Read more or help us by contributing here.

Author Bio: My name is Everett Bumstead and I am a student at Vancouver Film School. I grew up in a very rural part of Ontario. A bit out of my element, I am now living in East Vancouver. Through my school, I have found a circle of passionate and talented friends that feel strongly about this issue. Together, we plan to make a short film about the people of the downtown east side and the unique community that exists there. We hope to spread our vision all across Canada and are now fundraising to make it possible.