A Snapshot of Hastings Street


     The thought of living downtown would repel most people in the Lower Mainland.   East Vancouver is a haven for drug users, prostitutes and drug traffickers.   If you walk along Hastings,  from the corner of Cambie  through to Princess Street,   you'd be surrounded  for the entire eight blocks  by human suffering.    Prostitutes stand on the curbsides selling their bodies and drug addicts openly smoke Crack Cocaine.   Some users comb the sidewalks, on their hands and knees, searching, digging through filth,  desperate  to find something  they dropped.  Dealers gather together in groups selling Crack, Pills and Heroin.   So many people openly involve themselves in these  illegal activities  that  the Police have no way of eradicating the problem.

       Hastings Street runs for several miles.  You can travel it all the way to the outskirts, where you find ordinary people, living in suburban homes, working and raising families.  Downtown the setting is completely opposite.    Single Occupancy Rooms,(SRO'S), are all over.  These dwellings cater to unfortunates who are unable to financially live anywhere else.   Unscrupulous landlords  do little upkeep;  allowing many of these places to become slums.   In the past couple of years the city has begun new social initiatives in trying to bring buildings up to code, but still many of them fall through the cracks.  Infestations of bedbugs and cockroaches are common.  Communal bathrooms become breeding zones for different types of bacteria.  

      Many people pass through the downtown core.  Drug users come and go but, usually stay, seemingly trapped.  To most of us this is incomprehensible,  how can a person be trapped downtown?  The only person who understands is one enslaved by  addiction.  Crack Cocaine  traps people in East Vancouver.  The high  lasts a couple of minutes and leaves the user wanting more. The urge is so strong the user wants more  immediately.  Pieces sell in ten-dollar allotments giving the illusion that getting high is  cheap.  This is far from the truth, often the user buys piece after piece until they have spent all their money.   Crack addicts often turn to crime to support their habit.  Without some form of illegal activity most addicts would"nt be able to use daily.  They get to the point that  getting and doing drugs is all that matters..  Young girls often find themselves on the street corner, turning tricks to support their habit.  Once a woman becomes involved in prostitution it becomes twice as hard to get away. 

     Many addicts sell drugs to make enough money to use.    They sell drugs for a dealer who gives them the drug to sell.  The agreement is that  they pay the bill  once they sell the drugs.  It doesn't take long for the addict to do more than they can afford.  Often these situations become violent and on more than one occasion people in debt go and commit serious crimes to pay off their debtors.  When the Police hear these types of problems they make their presence known.  They seem to swarm the area for a few days,  frisking people and asking for identification but, it goes back to normal quickly.  If the Police find a small amount of Crack  Cocaine, often the cops simply step on the drug, crushing it  and  then let the addict go. 

     Violence occurs regularly  in the downtown core.  Girls get bad dates.  People get ripped off.  Lots of people get in debt and panic, but there is nowhere to run.  The degree of violence seems to escalate and then diminish.   You feel stress  when the Police  swarm  the streets making their presence known.  It is a cycle repeated, all things quiet down and soon some sort of violence will happen again.

    So you ask why do addicts stay?  Why don't they quit using?  .  Problems stemming from childhood  stay with us into adulthood.  The impact of child abuse, negligence, split families and/or a host of other damaging situations lead children to have little or no self-worth.   The only way that a child learns to have good self-esteem is by being raised by parents, or parent who has self-esteem.  We learn from what we see, not from what we hear.  Since the 60's a host of problems are on the rise.  Divorce, single parents, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment along with a list of others maladies which marginalize people.  All of these cause a lack of self-esteem and it is this  sense of self that is missing in most addicts.  Living in squalor, being forced to steal or sell your body does not allow an addict to develop  self-worth.  Instead any degree of self-worth is further stripped away.  The drug gives them a momentary escape, one that feels good.  The longer they use the more they identify with other users.  They don't believe they  fit in normal society and they feel ashamed.   The addict to feels  hopeless.  These internalized feelings become part of the subconsciousness. Now change must stem from a place  deeper than thought,  now one must change core believes.  No-one  sets out with the idea "I'm going to be an addict" but once hooked , they don't know how to change.   Ask an addict about the road from addiction to "normality", he will tell you it does not exist.