The Not So Beautiful Side of Vancouver BC (Downtown Eastside)

28 03 2008

van_stnightcafepreview.jpgAfter night of heavy drinking in Gastown at one of my favorite clubs in Vancouver The Modern, I ended up losing my buddies and trying to find my way to a bus stop to go home. I know the city very well and can find my way around pretty easily, but on this night I was too intoxicated to find my way home. Walking a couple blocks up I stumbled upon the heart of the infamous East Hastings Street. If any of you are from or know Vancouver, you know East Hastings (Downtown Eastside) is not the best street to get lost on as it’s one of the poorest and dirtiest areas in North America and is full of homeless people, drug addicts, prostitutes, and diseases.

Once I hit the street even in my drunken state, I knew I was on East Hastings and thinking to myself that I should probably find myself onto a safe street ASAP. I’ve driven through the area a couple times before but when your outside walking the streets what once was the most prominent streets in Vancouver it’s surreal. It was like I was walking through hell, seeing crack addicts shooting up before my eyes, people begging me for money, women trying to sell themselves and all the historical buildings and former businesses abandoned or used as drug fronts. It was just like what you see in movies and documentaries but worst.

van_exterior.jpgAfter getting myself off that street and somewhere I felt safe I was thinking to myself about how an area like that can exist in such a beautiful city and country? How could an area with such a rich and colorful history be so poor and dark? Some of these people have chosen this path of drugs and homelessness some have been put through a rough life and haven’t had much of a choice. I don’t know what all is being done to clean this area up, but I know housing prices are only getting higher and the homeless rate seems to be increasing as well, so the city isn’t helping very much. I know the city is a major reason this area is the way it is, and the people with it. But I have heard there are steps to preserving some of the historical buildings and groups of dedicated people trying to fix this problem and to clean this area up.

photo-by-stefan-christoff.jpgI went online a couple months before this drunken night to studied and researched this area’s history, and after a few hours (crazy how much time you can spend on Wikipedia) I was immensely intrigued. The Downtown Eastside is one of the oldest neighborhoods, the most prominent and was once the core shopping district in Vancouver which centered around Woodward’s department store. The courthouse and the Carnegie Library were all located on this former cultural and entertainment district. As the city center moved more West, and suburban shoppers took advantage of local malls the Downtown Eastside began to deteriorate as pedestrians and traffic in the area quickly decreased. The city in the 1970’s de-institutionalized thousands of psychiatric patients and most were forced to live on the streets. Many businesses moved elsewhere in the city or closed down and into the 1990’s the Woodwards department store closed and with cheaper housing all of the crack addicts and homeless people made there way to East Hastings, which is now a city of itself full of thousands of these people and surrounded with empty buildings.

carnegie.jpg The empty buildings which seem to be deteriorating are some of the cities oldest and historical buildings with many great stories and memories in all of them. One of them is the Pantages Theatre built in 1908 and is the oldest surviving one in North America, it headlined some legendary acts such as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth. Of course there is also Woodwards, some of the building has been demolished but the main part of the building is intact and is currently being renovated to my knowledge and being used for something in the future. Another used to be a public library, mueseum and city hall, called the Carnagie which is now a community centre and place for people to go eat and do various activities.

This area has an interesting history behind it and after that drunken night walking on “ground zero” of Downtown Eastside it makes me want to see this area and cleaned up and restored one day and it also makes me realize how lucky most of us Vancouverites are.


I have included videos I have found on Youtube which have interested me and I’m sure will interest you. One is a documentary style video, and the other two videos show an actual addict talking about his life and how it has ruined it, it’s pretty compelling because the guy seems like a pretty decent and smart guy.

Tragic Story of a Junkie on Hastings Part 1:

Tragic Story of a Junkie on Hastings Part 2:

Quick Documentary of Hastings:

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35 responses

28 03 2008
- Vancouver Blog

[…] THE BURGAR POINT Dan says, “After night of heavy drinking in Gastown at one of my favorite clubs in Vancouver The Modern, I ended up losing my buddies and trying to find my way to a bus stop to go home. I know the city very well and can find my way around pretty easily, but on this night I was too intoxicated to find my way home. Walking a couple blocks up I stumbled upon the heart of the infamous East Hastings Street. If any of you are from or know Vancouver, you know East Hastings (Downtown Eastside) is not the best street to get lost on as it’s one of the poorest and dirtiest areas in North America and is full of homeless people, drug addicts, prostitutes, and diseases.” Read All>> […]

1 04 2008

Hey … I grew up on the downtown eastside.

The area was not always like this. It went progressively downhills after expo 86. And no thanks to the idiots trying to govern our City, it has gone down the sewer.

I still head down and visit the downtown eastside, not for drugs or anything, but for sight seeing safaris with tourists… welcome to vancouver, eh.

27 07 2008

strange how one stumbles upon things that are on your mind at the moment.Thanks for the posting.Very apt.I had spent two days on these blocks researching for a documentary i was thinking of doing on how the oldest parts of a city just seem to slowly decay and go down the dark road to oblivion.but for now history is happening in front of our eyes.I’am really curious about how this came to be…….

5 09 2008
gladys evoy

these junkies didnt “choose”” their lives circumstances happen you be gratefull you werent raped and beaten repeatedly in your childhood signed a clean and sober junkie 14 years clean and still helping others maybe you should try and put your energy into something a little better than being sooooo better than and judgemental gladys evoy

19 03 2010
Natalie Ivanisko

Yes, some junkies DO choose! Not all who were beaten and raped, etc., etc., etc., as children CHOOSE to do this. And, there are those who CHOOSE dope over everything else and everyone who ever attempted to help. They are DOPE FIENDS. So please, don’t expect pity from those who did not CHOOSE to handle pain in this way. It is insulting! I am grafteful that I did CHOOSE NOT TO be a “DOPE FIEND” despite my neither my childhood, nor my “adult” beatings. And, kudos to those who have beaten this HORRID life destroying pastime. Yes, you can HELP by not buying EXCUSES cause you do know better now. Be careful as not ALL who ask for help, really want it.

2 04 2013
skid row joe

right on well said, this guy is a fucking idiot from british properties i bet

5 09 2008

Wow settle down Gladys I wasn’t being so judgmental, I was just saying what the reality is out there and how it used to be such a prominent part of the city now people are scared to even go near it. I think many of these junkies didn’t choose their life as it is now it’s the drugs that obviously hurt their lives.

15 09 2008
Jim Martin

My wife and I visited Vancouver last week for the first time. We figured we would have a drink and appetizer in Gastown and walk over to Chinatown for dinner. Needless to say, we tripped across the Eastside and did not leave with a favorable impression of Vancouver. Both of these areas are promoted on the tourist maps. You’d think the Chamber of Commerce or Dept. of Tourism or whatever would take more of an interest in this area.

25 10 2008
lyonel evoy

East Van
SHout outs To my MOms

11 11 2008

Yes the dtes has an obvious open drug market and poverty, however tousands of middle-class and upper-middle class people have issues with substances, only difference our addictions happen behind closed doors. The dtes is more then a “dirty, disease ridden, place” as you qualify it. It is a vibrant community filled with children, elders, young people from all walks of life. It is a place of beauty, where life happens. It is the one place in Vancouver where you can walk down the streets and peeple will actually say hello and talk to you. Furthermore, the dtes has the highest rate of volunteerism per capita then any other area in the city. People there may be in large part materially poor, but that doesn’t mean they are not rich in other ways . The media do a solid job of only focussing on the horror stories, of emphasizing certain things. What effect do you think that has? It dehuminizes the people who actually live in, and value this place. In terms of “cleaning up” the dtes, the governement needs to step it up and provide services (instead of cutting them), as well as low income housing. The whole rhetoric of “redevelopment” that accompagnies the 2010 Olympics is double speak for destroying the nucleous of the community, and what justifies the destruction of the community is the dehuminizing way it is emphasized by media, politiciens, and people who walk in with their cameras (or give tourists tours of these “four blocks of hell”).

11 11 2008

One more thing, what is the difference between a “night of heavy drinking in gastown” and a “night of doing crack in blood alley”?

18 11 2008

I agree completely with Wallfly. There is a disturbing rhetoric about “cleaning up” the area that really translates into one thing: gentrification. It’s not surprising considering the cut throat real estate market here. Developers would love nothing better that to buy a chunk of cheap dtes real estate, turn it into some fancy condos and sell it back to the middle and upper class urbanites for $750,000.

I went to school in the dtes for about 5 years. I’m an SFU grad with my BFA in Visual Arts, and the visual arts studio is on Princess and Alexander street. Every year we had the same discussion; new students would come to the campus with their heads filled with the dehuminizing rhetoric of drug addicts, prostitutes and horror stories. Then we get a visit from the Vancouver police to talk about safety at our campus. Those students who want practical solutions are quickly disappointed as the police always focus on the fact that the people living in this community are people, some with homes and families, and all participating in a lively community where people know each other’s names and where neighbours are friends. The police then tell us their own “horror” story, where a white, middle class male finds himself in the dtes, walking behind someone he believes to be a prostitute and her male companion. He believes the dtes is dirty, a black mark against the beautiful facade of Vancouver and that these people are to blame for that and their own circumstances. The man begins to yell derrogatory remarks at the woman, calling her a “whore” and names much worse. Her male companion tries to pull the woman to the other side of the street to avoid confrontation. The middle class man and the woman end up fighting, and the police attend. It turns out the “prostitute” is the sister of her companion and they were walking after dinner. Neither were currently drug addicts, neither had drugs in their possession and neither were in the sex trade. This man, and his stigma, harassed a perfectly nice pair enjoying some family time.

We need to help the people in the dtes that need it, and help to preserve the lively community that exists there.

13 06 2009

In 2001, 43% of the people who live in the DTES are immigrants.
I think Vancouver needs to start loading those boats back up and shipping them back where they came from.

13 06 2009

Our history is buried deep in the streets of that dump and needs to revitalized with the destruction of the scum that currently inhabit them.
I am also a recovering addict/alcoholic but you know….I don`t have pity for slime and those historic streets are crawling with it. Load up those sorry asses, drop them off on some island somewhere, quit being so goddamn politically correct and beautify that area once again.

12 09 2009

the guy in the last video mugs old and crippled people. I saw his picture on the cover of the vancouver sun or province from a surveillance video. He hangs out a block away from the vancouver police station all day at the orange number five, outside, and the crime on the cover of the paper took place one block away from the police station. Police can not catch him? They are as dumb as rocks.

24 09 2009

Hello, im Amber, im 15, and my birth mom lives in Vancouver in EastHasting, and i wish she didnt. my dad lives near there too. i dont live with my parents, and i barly see them, they are both drug users. this site is really interesting, because thats the place my mom stays everyday.

21 09 2011

I am sorry to hear about your Mom and Dad.Not a very good thing for you.But you seem to have an inner strength not to be where they are.And you don’t ever have to be. Go to school and get an education and have a good life. You can be whatever you put your mind to. The world is out there for you to grab, set some goals and go after them. Power to you. You can make a good life for yourself, by making the right choices. I believe you can do it!!! Be strong and learn from your parents bad choices.

21 08 2010

I feel that by labelling the DTES as “the poorest postal
code in Canada” that it will always be this type of place.
I never felt unsafe walking down this area of town day
or night. It is a place of poverty & addiction. All hope
is lost for now. There might be hope if the addiction
and mental illness part is greatly helped. The main
police is right there beside this huge block. “A cop on
every corner” is usually the scene here. No kidding!
I have seen the poverty in the DTES. It is sad but if
there were more street outreach workers, then things
might start to get better. It is a rundown area that
requires a huge amount of assistance & organization!!!

21 08 2010

This area of town called the DTES needs renewed
help and organization. There are people who have
gone through addiction & mental illness issues
who might be able to help those in desperate need.
Addiction AND mental illness is difficult & challenging
everyday! No one really understands this type of
challenge. Some people run across the street and
feel unsafe. Ther street community to me means
broken hearts and souls. These are the true downcasts
of society. They need help TODAY. You will never
save them all but it is wise to help those who want
the help. Most need days of rest and proper nutrition.
I wish VPD lots of luck. This neighborhood is a
huge challenge for any department. DTES is no exception!

30 09 2010

this is the greatest neighborhood in Canada to live in..other neighborhoods
in other cities pail in comparison..what they call tough we call weak..if you
don’t like it here don’t come here..your not wanted anyways and leave your
cameras at home..

4 10 2010


I live in Chinatown and this is an amazing place, but it would be a LOT better without the suburban drunks who come here from the suburbs every weekend for a night at Modern or Shine and get wasted go nuts ripping branches off trees and smashing bottles in the street.

It shouldn’t be that difficult for us in the city of Vancouver to support more efforts to create social housing and support for those who need a little extra advice and help. But when a social housing project, or a sober living house is proposed in any neighbourhood then it’s “not in my backyard” because the poor have been demonized by these stories.

Stop trying to make downtown Vancouver sound scary. Go walk through Detroit or Baltimore or Surrey and then maybe I’ll be impressed.

12 01 2013

There is more killing in surrey than downtown eastside,some of them are there because of mental illness and drug problems,but many people in downtown eastside are no different than anybody…Im A VOLUNTEER in one of the christian mission in dtes I meet lots of good person…

30 04 2011

Vancouver is getting itself a bad rep. In fact, most Canadian cities have long lost their reputations as safe, clean places. Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are three cities that in the last 10 or so years, especially with the Jamaican and Asian immigrants, have garnered reputations as violent and crime ridden places. Canadian cities are no longer different to most American cities. As with the USA, the taxpayer doesnt want to financially pay for fixing the problems, but would rather move out of the city and leave people to disintegrate. Pity really, Canada sure isnt holding its reputation around the world.

10 09 2011

people in bc need to change their perspective. so many people look at these people as dirty and worthless, but we can help change their lives, everyone has worth, and by changing their lives, the amount of impact these people could have on the world is phenomenal. not only because they’ve been given a second chance, but because THEY GET IT. the people that need help, need people who understand fully and completely what they’re going through. and having people like this that have gone through it and been given the help they need even after they give up on themselves, it can give them a renewed spirit of hope, and love and passion for the people living like they used to. to help them change their lives for the better. it’s never too late, as much frustration as we may face trying to help people, not giving up on them even when they give up on themselves, that could be exactly what they need. don’t allow them to accept this as their life. they deserve better, they made a mistake once upon a time that led them to this, and they continued to make that mistake. but they are so valuable to our society as people who know what its like to be on the streets, they can help people young and old, to not make the same decisions they did.

1 11 2011
bedroom eyes

hi, my name is bedroom eyes i am a american. i have saw a tv program
called the beat which is focusing on the downtown east side of vancouver
canada. i know vancouver is a beautiful city to live in. but the canadian
politicians in ottawa canada needs to stop playing games. and invest
money into the dtes area to beautify the area, also help out the people
who has the most problems to have a chance to get their life back on
track. i believe every person deserves a second chance in life. the
vancouver media needs to stop putting down the area down by
focusing only on the negative things and start to focusing on the
positive things can come out of this difficult situation. thank you.

23 12 2011
15 01 2012

hay i did drugs big time the only thing that saved me was jail and then i cut all ties with everyone i knew and went away for 10 years and i slowly stoped doing everything and today i am 59 years old and i am always thinking about dope and drinking and smoking and i always will but i will not let it win been clean for 20 years now and man there have been some bad times but i say fuck the shit and just go on

12 02 2012

Mental illness is a major role in why these people are on the streets. once Riverview hospital was shut down people were pretty much used as a social experiment and taken to the Downtown Eastside, where they had no idea where to go or how to survive. For some people, East Hastings and that area is all they know. Lowering the cost of housing or creating more social housing is not going to magically fix the problem. we have to come up with a way to treat mental illness, and drug addictions first, then we might see a difference. The government needs to work with other forces to ensure proper funding is set up for resources.

25 02 2012
jimmy stones

What a bunch of junky scum trash. Terminate them all or they will eventually move west bringing there filth,drugs&disease with them! There not really human anymore,they contribute nothing to are society & only cost us more! They are totally expendable. Get rid of them all,get it over with & forget it ever happened!

13 06 2012
Doeidea Porter

About a fortnight ago I was in Vancouver visiting my son and his family. My son took us to Stanley Park and then on a drive around the city. We drove through Hastings the traffic was quite heavy so it was a stop-start journey. I saw such poverty, drug use, open dealing in (I assume) drugs. The whole experience I found really disturbing. I noticed a lovely building called Carnegie. It was because I looked up the name to see if there was any connection to Andrew Carnegie that I found this article. Having read many of the comments about the condition of the buildings and more importantly the residents of Hastings. I am left with a feeling of despair, because every city has its Hastings, but never have I read so many contributors pass the buck to the local councils. It isn’t only the fault of the elected city councillors, We are all responsible for the breakdown in society that allows such deprivation and decay to exist alongside some of the most beautiful cities of the world. Addicts and poverty have existed for centuries, Why don’t we learn from the past.?

23 06 2012
dhana petitclerc

I went to Vancouver to visit my Daughter. I walked down east Hastings, I was heart broken. I only felt compassion for all the Mother’s, Father’s, Son’s, Daughter’s, everyone I saw. If my child was there(and anyone could end up there) I would rather see them dead. I could not bare the thought of anyone abusing my child. I send my love to you all.

9 07 2012

Man I think you had a hangover! :D jokes, yeah you right it is the place where you experience the Hell.

18 12 2012

Dave (17:54:31) : Says…..

In 2001, 43% of the people who live in the DTES are immigrants.
I think Vancouver needs to start loading those boats back up and shipping them back where they came from.

I ask then….. if thats the case then why is it that anytime I have ever visited the dtes, it seems most of the street people, addicts, prostitutes, I have ever seen appear to be caucasian or 1st nations? being from Campbell River I have lost 4 friends to the dtes, 1 to Pickton, and 3 overdosed in a flea bag hotel and or an alley. And all of them were white, in addition to most of Picton’s victims were white and or 1st Nations.

2 04 2013
skid row joe

this article should be taken off the internet. He’s a drunk, and a shitty writer. Signed, a recovered addict who lives , works, and volunteers in the DTES. p.s I get asked how my day is going by more people when i walk down hastings, than i ever did walking down the main street of my home town of london On, aka the city of millionaires. Put that in your fuckin article

7 09 2013

The UNITED NATIONS should now declare CANADA a third world country.

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