Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the Community of Clients


  • Gordon W. Roe KPU



Vancouver, government, homelessness, poverty, social services


This paper examines how the community of the Downtown Eastside (DES) is constructed historically as well as currently as the disordered foil to Vancouver’s public image as a city of beauty and order. For much of the city's history, the area has been the location for those shunned by the mainstream. A concentrated community of poverty and abjection grew up, a place for people who could not afford or were not allowed options. In the 1970s and 80s, activists organized to advocate for this abject community's identity and needs, but at the expense of confirming the area's status as the 'natural' home for the socially neglected and undesirable. The latter 1990s saw the much-publicized, drug-fuelled explosion of HIV. Community-based researchers and service providers became the officially-recognized spokespeople for those populations deemed incompetent to speak for or represent themselves. Community development became negotiations between these neo-liberal ‘stakeholders’ and the commercial and government bodies wanting to re-develop the area and contain its problematic occupants. Socially marginal residents have been re-classified as ‘clients’ and have been assigned to the custody of community services. With the permission of the official community stakeholders, the DTES has been re-colonized by ‘citizens’ -- artists, condo owners and businesses -- who are lauded for their ‘revitalization’ of the DTES into a healthy community. The DTES is now becoming a series of gated, exclusive communities which make use the remaining poor as advertisements for enlightened, caring social management.