Issue #152
Megaphone's community journalism class takes the next step

Get your tickets to #voicesthestreet launch on Apr 30 and hear some of the writers behind this award-winning issue: t.co/t30wqHGP6U Apr 17, 11:29 AM

MEGA-NEWS: COPE elects new members to executive board


COPE external director Tim Louis. Photo by BlueAndWhiteArmy/flickr.


The Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) has elected a new team of activists, organizers, and fundraisers with strong ties to housing issues in the Downtown Eastside.


The new group has replaced the executive board members who left mid-term last year. “Most of the people who left the executive were strong supporters of Vision Vancouver,” says Tim Louis, who moved from internal to external director of COPE during board elections on March 30, which took place during its 2014 Policy Conference.

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MEGA-NEWS: Urban Aboriginal programs face funding cuts


A rock in Crab Park commemorating the Downtown Eastside's missing and murdered women. Recent federal funding cuts have cancelled several urban aboriginal programs in the neighbourhood, home to 10 per cent of Vancouver's total aboriginal population. Photo by Honeymae/flickr.


Several urban aboriginal programs in Metro Vancouver have been cancelled as a result of federal funding changes. Local programs run by the Urban Native Youth Association, the Aboriginal Mothers Centre, and the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, to name a few, have shut down until funding is released. The changes have caught non-profit leaders off-guard.


The federal government says on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) website it held 100 community consultation sessions prior to making these changes. But the Metro Vancouver Urban Aboriginal Executive Council (MVAEC) says its members weren’t consulted, nor were they made aware of the changes in enough time to adequately prepare their members. As of March 31, social service organizations serving urban aboriginal women, youth, and low-income people have lost $1.2 million in funding, according to MVAEC.


Four Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) programs previously supported these initiatives across Canada. But as of this month, the federal government has amalgamated the four into the Urban Partnerships and Community Capacity Supports programs, part of its Improved Urban Aboriginal Strategy.


“[It’s] reducing the cost of administering and delivering the programs,” reads a statement on AANDC’s website. “These savings will be going directly to supporting community projects, initiatives and programs dedicated to increasing the participation of urban Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s economy.”


Such a transition requires comprehensive work that raises many questions about the future of urban aboriginal non-profits in B.C. “We’ve been asking, 'What’s this going to look like? And what is this going to look like rolling out?' Government doesn’t seem to know, nobody seems to know,” says MVAEC co-chair Christine Martin.


“In order to pull off [the transition], they need to put together a team and they need to figure out a process. And all of those pieces will take at least an eight-month period,” Martin adds. That’s a long wait for the MVAEC, whose member agencies serve over 183,000 urban aboriginal people annually.

MEGA-NEWS: Urban Aboriginal programs face funding cuts


A rock in Crab Park commemorating the Downtown Eastside's missing and murdered women. Recent federal funding cuts have cancelled several urban aboriginal programs in the neighbourhood, home to 10 per cent of Vancouver's total aboriginal population. Photo by Honeymae/flickr.


Several urban aboriginal programs in Metro Vancouver have been cancelled as a result of federal funding changes. Local programs run by the Urban Native Youth Association, the Aboriginal Mothers Centre, and the Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, to name a few, have shut down until funding is released. The changes have caught non-profit leaders off-guard.


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Megaphone's community journalism class takes the next step

Food is the one thing you can get for free in the Downtown Eastside. But the relationship between low-income people and food is fraught with poor nutritional quality, limited access, and a lack of choice. In Megaphone #152 our Community Journalism 201 graduates talk about their relationship with food, and we check in with non-profits working to make free food a step towards health and dignity for low-income people. 


Also in this issue: Urban aboriginal non-profits struggle to serve women, youth, and low-income people after federal funding is put on hold indefinitely; the Coalition of Progressive Electors vows heavier focus on housing with the election of affordable housing advocates, activists, and organizers to its executive board; the latest Voices of the Street, Megaphone's annual poetry issue, debuts this month with an official release party on April 30; poetry from our writing workshops; and much more!


DIRECTOR'S CORNER: Portland Hotel Society's future in the balance


Vancouver's safe-injection site, Insite, is one of the many programs run by PHS. Photo by Jay Black. 


It’s been an emotional couple of weeks in the Downtown Eastside. The financial audits on the Portland Hotel Society’s spending forced the resignation of its four prominent leaders, leaving the future of the non-profit’s housing and employment programs in doubt. 


While the full impact of their departures remains to be seen, it’s paramount that the Portland’s innovative programs and services continue to serve the community’s marginalized residents.


For the past 23 years, the Portland Housing Society (PHS), led by Mark Townsend and Liz Evans, has been at the forefront in the fight to stabilize what was once a devastated community. After years of neglect by the city, the Downtown Eastside had an HIV rate of 30 per cent and a Hepatitis C rate of close to 70 per cent, according to a 2007 United Nations report. These are rates comparable only to countries in sub-Sahara Africa.


The community’s health epidemic wasn’t just sentencing people to slow deaths. Without a safe-injection site, dozens of injection drug users were dying every year, reaching a peak of 201 overdose deaths in 1993. And when the Liberal provincial government froze funding to social housing in 2001, just as gentrification began to push up rents in the neighbourhood, hundreds suddenly became homeless.


Throughout all this, PHS ran low-barrier social housing buildings that housed some of the neighbourhood’s most marginalized, offering a home to many who no one else would. It now operates 16 housing sites, which house 1,200 residents.


As the managers of the safe-injection site Insite, which opened in 2003, they successfully fought off the federal Conservative government, which tried to shut it down multiple times. The organization also initiated innovative harm reduction programs, such as the alcohol management program for illicit drinkers and a crack pipe dispensing machine in order to give crack-cocaine users access to clean pipes.


On top of running programs that literally help save people’s lives, PHS also works to rebuild lives. It runs the Vancity community branch in the neighbourhood, Pigeon Park Savings, giving people access to banking and financial literacy. It operates a number of social enterprises that give people employment and life skills as well as community programs, such as a street soccer team, that build hope and friendship.


PHS has always been an important supporter of Megaphone, helping us with office space early on, sponsoring our Voices of the Street literary issues, and setting up classes for our writing workshops. This was crucial support in helping our vendor and writing programs get off the ground. 


Many people in the neighbourhood are now extremely nervous about what will happen to these programs now that the PHS board and executive team have stepped down. Will a new provincially-appointed board and executive continue PHS’ legacy of innovation?


The controversy over the organization’s spending is still a murky one. It will take some time to fully understand why money was spent in such fashion and whether the forced resignations were because of poor financial management or political activism. The answer probably lies somewhere in between.


In the meantime, we need to make sure the new PHS board does not cut important programming and continues to work in the best interest of the community’s residents.

VENDOR VOICES: Another day in the life of Peter Thompson


I was first introduced to Megaphone through Hope in Shadows, whose coordinators asked if I would like to sell the street paper in addition to the calendar. I said sure, give me a chance. It worked out very well.


Robson and Howe is where I sell. Every day is a different day down there. One day, a police cruiser pulled up right beside me and sat there for 15 minutes. Then, the police officer jumped out of his car and opened his trunk. He pulled out an assault rifle, got back into his car, turned on the emergency lights, and proceeded on to Granville Street. Then he stopped and waited.


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Failure to comply: How administration-of-justice offences are growing B.C’s prison population


Photo by DM Gillis.


A 15-year-old high school student is charged with failing to comply with a condition of his release after police find him spending time in a local mall from which a youth court has banned him. He‘s not causing any trouble when he is spotted at the mall—the only infraction is spending time in a place where he shouldn’t.


After being arrested and charged with failure to comply with a court order, the court releases him on a $500 bail with a new set of conditions he must abide by while he waits for his court date. On his list: live with his aunt and abide by the rules of her home; keep the peace and be on good behavior; not to go back to the mall, attend each class at school every day; and honour an overnight curfew between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. If he breaks any of these rules, he would be guilty of a new crime: failing to comply with a court order. Doing so could land him in a youth detention centre.


A young Aboriginal man has a schizophrenia diagnosis. At the local park where he spends time, a woman calls the police on him, accusing him of having harassed her when she was out walking her dog. 


After being arrested by the police and processed by the courts, he is released on a bail order with a condition that he stay away from the park where the woman walks her dog. But he continues to hang out in the park. Accordingly, the number of charges for violating his court order grows. As the violations stack up, it isn’t long before the court refuses to release him from jail, and he is now guilty, several times over, of failing to comply with a court order.


A woman in dire financial straights starts stealing the things she needs but can’t afford. The police finally catch her shoplifting and charge her with the crime for the first time in her life. During the wait for her court date, she leaves Vancouver several times to visit her boyfriend, who lives elsewhere in British Columbia. Those visits result in 16 separate administration-of-justice offences. That’s 16 separate offences on top of a shoplifting charge that hasn’t even seen its day in court.


Ask a lawyer in B.C. about administration of justice offences, and it’s likely you’ll hear more stories like these.


Administration-of-justice offences are cases where a person accused of a crime gets into legal trouble for failing to follow the conditions of bail or a probation order.


Marginalized citizens—people already facing a host of intersecting social, educational, and economic barriers related to poverty, mental health, disability—are often at the centre of such offences. These offences are technical violations that lead to criminal penalties.


While these conditions can keep people safe and encourage people to change problematic behaviours, they can also lead to a spiraling of charges, often for conduct that wasn’t even considered criminal to begin with.


Criminal justice experts worry about these smaller, cumulative technical offences. Critics say these rules can criminalize everyday behaviour and unfairly send Canada’s most vulnerable citizens to jail.


A growing chorus of legal professionals, provincial justice reform initiatives, and academics are concerned that some conditions of bail and probation can unfairly set up the young, the vulnerable, and the mentally ill to fail in the criminal justice system.


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Locked Away: How our correctional system is failing

Canada's crime rates are at their lowest since the 1970s. But the number of prisons and prisoners to fill them is going up. Megaphone #151 focuses on the affect bail and probation restrictions have on increasing prison populations, when poor, mentally ill, or otherwise marginalized people are harshly punished for not abiding by court orders. 


Also in this issue: A popular incarcerated mom and baby program ordered reinstated by a B.C. judge has yet to return to our women's prison; vendor Peter Thompson talks about narrowly missing being hit by a car while selling Megaphone; Portland Hotel Society scandal leaves uncertain future for the DTES' biggest housing and social service provider; and much more!

VENDOR VOICES: Then and now with Teresa Ng


When I was in Christian elementary school, I was wrestling and having fun. Every boy I was wrestling with, I won! My health was really good when I was young. Sometimes I would go with my friends to the store and purchase dried prunes and ginger. Every day I walked a very long distance from home to school, and from school to home with a big heavy bag of books.


My life was easy, fun and successful before we came to Canada. In Hong Kong, I went to United Christ Elementary School. I earned the highest marks in the whole class in math; in every English dictation and homework; and every Bible dictation and homework. I got 100 per cent. In Grades 6 and 7, I was a teachers’ assistant. Math and English for me were easy and fun. In Grade 6, I got a scholarship to further my education. I gave the money to my father.


After arriving in Canada, I went to Eric Hamber Secondary School and took Grade 9 math in Grade 8. Also during those years, I was the fastest runner on the track and field team. I worked very hard at this and practiced running around Langara College.


My parents said I was obedient, pure and polite. They wanted me to be a Catholic nun, a Catholic sister. My dream was to become a policewoman.


I tried to be as religious and spiritual as possible by going to church a lot when I was young.


I got sick later in life. I've been on psychiatric pills since I was 18. Now, I am turning 50. The side effects of psychiatric pills make me unable to keep a job. I haven’t had a business that doesn’t result in me getting fired.


I am on welfare now and I was on welfare after I completed high school.


I like selling the Hope in Shadows calendar and Megaphone magazine. It's like I'm hiring myself for my business, like I am owning a business. It's nice to be polite and smile and say "Hi" to people. And I don't get fired.


It's like a community, to make friends and be friendly to people.


Hope in Shadows vendors and Megaphone vendors are poor. The business helps people to help themselves.


I am really happy that I can make enough money for myself to survive and make a living every two weeks.


Teresa sells Megaphone at several locations. She sells at the corner of Granville and West Broadway; at the corner of Granville and 14th; in front of Woodward’s; and outside the IGA at Richards and Robson. 

In over our heads: The Downtown Eastside's mental health crisis signals a call for change across the city

The Downtown Eastside population represents a group of mental health consumers whose history of trauma is exceptionally high. Photos by DM Gillis. 


When Aleta (she asked that we withold her last name to protect her privacy) moved into low-income housing in the Downtown Eastside in 2010, she didn't expect it to be easy; she knew the transition into a new home and neighbourhood would come with its usual stresses. But she didn't anticipate how quickly her life would spiral out of control. Within months of moving in, her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was flaring up.


“I was kicking the wall and really angry,” she recalls. “I was angry about being in that building and being low income.”


Agitated by her PTSD and unused to the culture of surveillance in her single- room occupancy (SRO) hotel, Aleta felt watched by staff and not listened to when she complained about the harsh chemicals used to clean the building. The SRO's policies started to feel like an intrusion: it prohibited residents from having overnight guests, staff installed security cameras in the building, and required everyone to check in when they entered.


Then, a flare-up between Aleta and building staff escalated to the point where Vancouver police officers detained her under B.C.'s Mental Health Act, which allows authorities to involuntarily admit people with serious mental health issues for treatment in hospital. Healthcare workers diagnosed Aleta with psychosis. According to her, she was involuntarily confined to a locked mental health ward for more than a month of observation.


Last September, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu declared a mental health crisis in Vancouver and called for more assertive community treatment initiatives. Their high- profile pronouncement drew attention to mental health concerns among vulnerable populations like the low- income and homeless residents of the Downtown Eastside. Some politicians have even sought to reopen Coquitlam's Riverview Hospital, a mental health facility controversial for its traditional approaches to mental health care, to create more long-term care options for those diagnosed with serious mental illnesses.


Most would agree there is a need for more assertive kinds of care. But many working on the front lines of mental health care say the best solutions incorporate holistic, non-medical community supports like mental health outreach, supportive housing and preventative care—not places like Riverview.


Frontline workers calling for more supportive housing, outreach, and preventative care for people with mental health issues work with people like Aleta every day. Mainstream media has historically over-focused on mental health crises featuring extraordinary acts of violence in public spaces, like Tim McLean's grizzly 2008 beheading on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba.


But the majority of people diagnosed with mental illness—those whom frontline workers deal with most of the time—are more like Aleta: under the radar, largely suffering in silence, chronically under-housed and largely under-served when it comes to mental health outreach and advocacy. Aleta's gentle demeanor, grey hair, short stature and soft, kitten-themed sweaters don't fit the mass-culture picture of a person with mental health concerns.


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