Just outside Vancouver's urban center and tourism hubs, a neighbourhood known as Downtown Eastside (DTES) reveals the city's long-ignored homelessness epidemic, rooted in the government's historic neglect of poverty, addiction, and mental health issues.
The crisis is that many of us are unwilling to look. Topics of urban poverty have become taboo, so our goal was to create a project that would help break down the stigma and prejudice against this community.
We created an experience, through walking tours, that changes the narrative from hopelessness to one of hope. Our tours highlighted the innovation already in the community and enabled local social enterprises and community members to speak for themselves.
Step by step. We needed to first find a way for people to meaningfully engage with those affected by systemic poverty because there is a fearful avoidance of Vancouver's urban poor. Our decision to create a guided walking tour around DTES was to help the public better understand the crisis from those who have experienced it.
Hidden histories. We guided participants through streets not often seen by tourists and sometimes avoided by locals. To provide background for visitors who were unfamiliar with the streets, we prepared a research script to illustrate the history behind the sites we visited.
Seeing and hearing local. Understanding the city's history is an important part of the crisis, but it isn't the full picture. It was vital for us to represent the voices of those who had lived through it instead of speaking for them. We reached out to social enterprises in the neighbourhood and partnered with local changemakers who were willing to share their stories with us.
Turning up the volume. Our tour featured stories of empowerment, broadening our discussion around homelessness from fear to hope. One of the most impactful parts of our tour was a 30-minute stop at East Van Roasters, a specialty café and social enterprise committed to supporting at-risk people re-entering the workforce. We were welcomed in by the store manager, who was a graduate of EVR's mentorship program and job training initiatives for women.
Uncovering solutions. There is incredible amounts of work being done and overlooked in the community due to the stigma and avoidance of mental health, drug addiction, and homelessness issues in the area. The goal of our project was to amplify the voices of underserved neighbourhoods and encourage our participants to consider how they could serve their own communities better.
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