Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Beautiful City & Its Homeless Community

Now that I have seen this, I am not sure that I should attempt to take another landscape image within the downtown Vancouver area! This art project is a very cool time lapse photography video of Vancouver set to even cooler music:

Personally, I think that this is a beautiful piece of work. I find it a good representation of the glossy parts of downtown Vancouver. I suspect that videos/images like this will go a long way to perpetuate the idea that Vancouver is one of the best cities to live in on the planet?

I tend to think of downtown Vancouver as being a bit like the City of London on a smaller scale. It is a blend of smart high rise office and residential developments. It has shopping streets plus the usual entertainment, restaurant and bar type places.

For me, in style and location, it appears to sit a bit separate to the rest of the city (in the way that the City of London feels like a distinct but sort of separate part of London to me). It is a dense mix of metal, glass, brick and concrete. It has a big park and it is surrounded on 3 sides by water. Downtown is reached from both North and South Vancouver by bridge.

The remainder of the city and the Greater Vancouver area is a bit less 'glamourous city' in its look and feel. It has quite a different sort of character and feel. Many residential homes are timber-framed. The commercial and retail areas tend to have a lower profile too (storey-wise).

In order to balance the content and mood of the above time-lapse video, I think that it is also fair to say that there are certain areas of the city that have serious, ongoing problems with poverty, homelessness, prostitution and drug use e.g. Downtown East Side (DTES). In addition, there are other areas within Greater Vancouver that have a real problem with gang violence - it seems that the recession last year did not just hit legitimate businesses hard.

So it's not all pretty scenery backdrop, buildings and lights here in Vancouver.

I am not suggesting that we do not have these problems in the UK. We do. However, I am still shocked by the numbers of homeless people that I see wandering the streets here.

DSC_0011 01

I snapped this image as part of a class photography assignment during a fieldtrip downtown last Autumn. Even though I consider it to be a picture of two people helping each other out, I still felt uncomfortable about taking it. I read a book about the DTES called, 'Hope in Shadows,' which helped me to pinpoint exactly why I wasn't happy. As a result, I have not taken another image like this since and I am only posting it now for awareness raising purposes.

People pushing supermarket trolleys stacked high with bags is not a sight that is confined to the DTES either. There are many more people living rough in parks and out in the suburbs. The homeless people where I live congregate in the local supermarket and off-licence car park - they sit outside, beg or busk for money and they trawl the local alleys for bottles to recycle*.

The city opened over 160 new winter shelter beds in the past month but they will close them again in April. While I am delighted that some more homeless people now have a safe roof over their heads, I confess that I am suspicious about the timing.

These shelter beds opened in the month before the Olympics and they are due to shut in the month after the Olympics end. The bad weather here kicks off in September/October. Where were those beds when temperatures went down to -7 degrees celcius and it hosepiped down with rain last year?

This topic feels like it is a boil that is just too big and complex for me to lance properly on this blog. I do not feel well-enough informed to do it justice. (It is why I have not blogged about it before. Actually, I did not set out to when I started to write this post today.)

So if the topic of homelessness in Vancouver interests you, here are links to:

  • Operation Pheonix, which is the campaign that was run by a local newspaper here over the past year. If nothing else, it gives a snapshot view of kinds of problems that exist in the DTES;
  • Hope in Shadows which is a annual community photography project for DTES residents. It is a really positive project that I support. Their book is an illuminating, if extremely depressing, read; and
  • Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society which is a non-profit organization that provides food and related assistance across Greater Vancouver.

Don't get me wrong, Vancouver is a nice enough place - I have just never been able to reconcile these two very different aspects of the city in my head.

With thanks to Katy, I have added these links which relate to the Vancouver Winter Olympics and relocation of Whistler's and the city's homeless for the duration of the games:

I do understand the issues around security for the Olympic venues. Yet there is still something extremely grotesque to me about shuffling homeless people out of the way for the expensive frills, pomp and ceremony of the Games. Heaven forbid that the world should see anything other than partying tourists, Olympic officials, athletes and Official Game Sponsors advertising** behind the heads of presenters during tv broadcasts during February and March.

* Here you still pay a bottle and can deposit (in the way that I remember that we used to in the UK when I was little). You get your money back if you return your empties to the store. However, many people simply put their bottles and cans out in their recyling box where they become a potential source of income for people living on the street. I hesitate to say, as a result but, I notice that many stores have a limit on the number of bottles and cans that a single person can return at any one time/on any day.

**Apparently VANOC spent $40million on procuring all commercial advertising space across the city during the Games for Official Sponsors (so that the city is suitably badged behind tv presenters' heads). The local media have been having a bit of fun with the fact that VANOC officials are (apparently) driving around town, reporting incidents of ambush marketing and making people take down unauthorised Olympic symbols etc. So we are now a city advertising a lot of Macdonalds and Coca Cola?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, this bothers me too. And not only the shelter issue, but the relocation issue.