Tag Archives: Downtown Eastside

Anna Smith’s Vag show; drugs kill more than COVID-19 in British Columbia

In the last blog, my occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith explained she felt awkward at having accidentally appeared in a surprisingly Christian YouTube video titled Strippers, Prostitutes and JESUS.

So, obviously, I asked her what else she had been doing… intentionally.

She replied:


In January this year, I was tottering around in an annual charity fashion show – Herstory in History – at the Vancouver Art Gallery (known popularly as The Vag). There were 13 models on the Vag runway and one grass dancer. Here I am…

(VIDEO by Candy ; MUSIC by The Outbursts)

The Vag is about as high profile a venue as I have done here in Vancouver – and for an important cause, so I had to try really hard not to strip.

Highly spirited Anna Smith with Two-Spirited Little Dancing Bear

Luckily I had to take my bra off before I went on because I had forgotten that the dress was a bit small on me and I couldn’t zip it up and it looked terrible with the bra showing. But I left my underpants on for security in case I fell over… and the undies were a bit baggy so if I did go flying and they showed it could be comical rather than tragic…

It was for a very good cause – to raise money for the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center. I often drop by there to get a delicious lunch after work.

The Downtown Eastside is known for being the ‘poorest postal code in Canada’. Researchers from all over the planet come to study the area. 

About half the population of the DTES are of First Nations heritage. The rest could be from anywhere in the world. In Ruggero Romano’s terrific documentary about homeless people, V6A, (available online), one of the characters is a Rastafarian-looking guitarist who concludes his interview with a gentle “Fuck you! I’m from London!“.

Crack cocaine use in a Downtown Eastside alley, Vancouver (Photograph from Wikipedia))

There is a remarkable sense of community in the DTES and, considering the extreme poverty, the level of violence is isolated and not as frequent as you’d expect.

The open use of drug injection is staggering though, with needles and paraphernalia littering the pavements. The sidewalk is lined with people sitting side by side shooting up or passed out. Almost nobody is wearing masks.

Everyone (including me) thought COVID-19 would have already decimated the populace there by now but, for some reason, it hasn’t. The only cases I heard of were of two men, staying at a Salvation Army hostel, who had recently been released from prison.

In fact, many more people have died of drug overdoses than from COVID-19. In June, 175 people in British Columbia died from illicit drug overdose, surpassing the previous high of 171 in May. For four consecutive months now, there have been more than 100 illicit drug toxicity deaths.

COVID-19 has made the drug overdoses increase because more people are ‘using’ alone, mostly young men. The cheap hotels and hostels where most people live no longer allow guests.

‘April’ going through drug withdrawal, on Hastings Street… (Photograph approved for publication on Wikipedia by ‘April’)

The streets are teeming with thousands of homeless people residing in tent cities, in downtown parks and alleyways. Tragically, a high proportion of the homeless and drug addicted are ‘aged out’ youth, formerly in government ‘care’, which ends abruptly at the age of eighteen when they are thrust into one of the world’s most expensive cities and expected to survive on a pittance which doesn’t even cover a quarter of the average rent, let alone food or clothing.

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Center is an amazing resource for all self-identified women who live or work in that neighbourhood, providing free food, clothing, hygiene services and advocacy.

Another interesting thing I did for a Downtown Eastside women’s organization was ear modelling.

I was an ear model in a YouTube made-for-charity fundraiser at WISH, the drop-in center for street sex workers where I work. 

It didn’t start out as an ear modelling video.

They got some of us in the Supportive Employment Programme to say what it meant to us to work at WISH. 

Since we were all current or former sex workers, we were filmed from behind or from the side to protect our privacy and some women chose to have their voices altered but it looked a little funny, because it looked sort of like those televised interviews with criminals and the part most in focus was our ears.

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A new drug crisis and old memories

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog about dodgy Black Friday discounts at UK department store chain Debenhams.

It triggered a response from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She lives in Vancouver.

She wrote:


Anna Smith in Toronto

Anna was too young and not crazy enough then

You should come to Canada and get a Shoppers Drug Mart (chemist shop) card. You get to accumulate points each time you shop, which can eventually be redeemed for discounts. There are special days when you get double or triple the points, called Redemption Days!

They also hold monthly Seniors’ Days, when seniors get everything for 20% off plus free coffee and the chance to socialise with other seniors picking up their medications. You only have to be 55 years old to be a senior.

Not on the infamous Downtown Eastside, though, where I go to music class, shop, but have never lived or worked.

CBC News reports the problem

CBC News reports the problem

On the Downtown Eastside, you get to be a senior when you are 40 years old because the life expectancy there is only about 45. They might have to lower the age even further because of the fentanyl crisis.

600 people have died from overdoses in Vancouver this year and pop-up supervised injection tents have opened in the alleyways downtown. They don’t have a discount card for those but you get free Narcan (antidote) if you overdose. Emergency services have been very busy, sometimes reviving the same person three times a week or more.

The latest drug to hit the scene there is the elephant tranquilizer carfentanyl.

Accident in Vancouver

After a woman had just driven her scooter into a flat bed lorry

I recently saw an unusual road accident on the Downtown Eastside when I stepped off the bus on the way to my music class.

A woman had driven her scooter into a flat bed lorry (or whatever you call them there). I took a photo just after the woman had been lifted into an ambulance. She was alert, talkative and appeared to be uninjured, even though it seemed she had been dragged along on her scooter some distance by the truck.  Maybe she used to work in rodeo.

The junction of Main and Hastings in Vancouver

Main and Hastings is now ground zero for dugs in Vancouver

Main and Hastings is ‘ground zero’ for drug addiction in Vancouver. There is a lot of sales activity (of drugs and everything else) outside The Carnegie Center (community center) where I take my music class.

It is a bit annoying to use the toilets inside because so many addicts are inside and drug addicts have a different perspective of time. Sometimes they shout from inside the stall: “I won’t be long! I’ll be done in fifteen minutes!”

The Old Continental Hotel in Vancouver

The Old Continental Hotel in Vancouver in 2000 – demolished

One time, about 20 ago, I had nowhere to live so I went to a large hotel called The Old Continental at the north end of the Granville Bridge. The building was locked but then I saw a man, one of the residents, just leaving.

“Are there any rooms for rent in there?” I asked him.

“There are,” he told me, “but if you want to live here you have to be over 45 or crazy“.

So I was too young and not crazy enough to get a room… then.

Now the Old Continental has been demolished. Everything changes.

In 1974, ‘women’s music’ or ‘wimmin’s music’ had not yet been invented, so young lesbians had to dance to Herman’s Hermits and Bob Marley (mainly No Woman No Cry).

More on this in a later blog HERE.

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