Category Archives: history


Our Streets, 2010

12″ x 54″, acrylic on wood.

Amid the creeping gentrification that is transforming our neighbourhood and making it even more difficult to live, the ‘mall’ on Hastings that runs from Pigeon Park at Carrall to Main (or Columbia, depending on your opinion) is one of the nerve centres of our community. These are Our Streets.

It is one of the places where we make our own rules and do our thing. Yeah, some of us use drugs, and we buy them on the street. We also meet our friends, go to United we Can, watch the world go by.

What’s crucial is how out of the ordinary this is. I get out of the neighbourhood a couple times a month, and I’m consistently unnerved by the conspicuous lack of people, the lack of conversation, the lack of difference in other parts of Vancouver. It’s kind of creepy. In this painting, I tried to create the atmosphere of the street without the people. As you look at it, I bet your mind and imagination fill in the people. But this is what some people want, all of us in our rooms and not filling the streets with our spirit and beauty. This is what we must fight to prevent, and keep these streets ours.

well. that was from 2010.

abundant harm, vancouver

It’s important to understand why emergency measures are still what are needed in terms of the overdose crisis, if the fact that four people each day are dying unnecessarily in this province, and that that number will continue to climb slowly, inexorably, up. To do so, it’s helpful to take a step back and take a look from a wider perspective. Sometimes, you need to hear about something that you know close-up and very well from someone looking from far away, with different experiences. This is @johannhari101 speaking last fall about harm reduction and the Downtown Eastside.

we are still doing #harmReduction but

>>>>>>we must expand our concept of HARM
[because clearly we did not]
[because everything became much more harmful very quickly

fatal, in fact

HARM is actually dynamic, a shapeshifter.

this is about inequality of possibility. the distance between us – in for example, the Woodwards building, emblematic of everything ever in this tiny world – on this stolen land on which we have built this city.

between the resident of the condo building and us in supportive housing – is a distance that capitalism measures in dollars, and therefore in value. it is an unfathomable distance, a gap that that can only be crossed by a miracle like celebrity, winning lottery, sports stardom

or the production and sale of synthetic narcotics.

And fentanyl is only the first.

and every day we are all a little poorer and more desperate, more harmed and capable of harm. and people have been so poor for so long.

this is Hugh Lampkin from the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users explaining the economics of fentanyl to you:

Frontline Fentanyl” is the best documentation of the 2016-17 phase of the overdose crisis.

people get desperate. plus they see this unreasonable wealth all around, and no other ways to live! they would never raise welfare. things would never change. it’s very profitable, as Hugh makes clear.

everyone is poor and just needs one break. you don’t need to be a genius to make money with this, but it’s not an income if you err by a micrograin and all your customers die. it’s as complicated and difficult to make money in an illicit market as it is to be a pharmacist. not many people are good at both, it turns out.

this is how it is down here

Downtown Eastside

and so hundreds are dead here.

this is the world that we all have created. All of Us.

it’s not about blame! but it is not a moral response to shut the cage and say “i’m sure you all know best.”

you need to read this again, by Travis Lupick, published december 10, 2016

FIVE years – TWO years, at this point this is all we know, endless crisis

so thanks everyone for stopping bothering to ask when will we find a bit of time to relax, and sort out our lives. We Need Some Damn Help. NOW because there’s no time left. We have to make a decision, you too, that we have to End this Emergency.

i mean, of course we want to live. ffs, that we have to say so, after everyone’s friends are dead.

it’s like “being in a war that no one else sees.” we should listen to this speech by Vito Russo, at the height of the AIDs crisis.

and they DON’T GIVE A SHIT .

What’s happened is a moral outrage. So let’s not let it continue. because in the future (SHOULD SUCH a THING OCCUR),

they will wonder how all this could have happened in such a beautiful, rich, decent place

i see you all trying to make this about “those” people who “aren’t from Here” but come on, i can see the fear in your nonsense: these are your children, and this is You, and ffs! this is your money! i thought you cared about that!

as Harm changes, we have to change how we respond. HARM isn’t a monument frozen in time since 2003! Insite is Very Important. But that Right Turn back around the turn of the millennium was much more harmful than even we realized then, and to people in this place in particular. it was a long fight, and we won, and that matters. but afterwards it’s as if it was frozen in time: like a Museum of Acceptable Practices on the 100-block. War is over if you want it, right? and nothing changed inside, it was widely believed , as if there had been an MOU signed with the external world that everything out there would stay the same too.

There was no MOU. Donald MacPherson of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition would say that the Iron Law of Prohibition holds: that prohibited substances become increasingly potent and dangerous over time, because of prohibition.

because of poverty > and the role of the #DTES in cda, >>> the Harm changed dramatically, and users sounded the alarm, and were ignored.

this whole misery-management industry is costing everyone a lot and also, it’s appallingly corrupt and just disgusting. and we’re trapped in it. like RATS in a Cage, not a Park. 20 years ago, they wanted to build Rat Park.

but this – these conditions – has become a terrible cage.

we ARE trying.

this is the fentanyl of place

we are trying to use capital to relieve pain

(it’s not going to work. well, it will, for a while.
but it’ll f@ck you up)

with #SafeSupply we can remove the profit motive from the drug market….if we can do it there – we can do it anywhere– no bunk

we can End the War on Drugs, and on ourselves, but we have to be serious about ending this Emergency, because that must be the goal for us here.

but we can do this on the 100-Block, and we must do it now.

it doesn’t have to be this way

the updated phrase
HarmReduction is about meeting people where they’re at,
but not leaving them there
is key to understanding what has happened in #DTES, wide-frame. the stakes are high. this is the history we must awaken from if we want a future. because not only are lots of things much more harmful –down here everything is so messed up (this is the capital of fucktup canada) — we’re an industry leader in inventing new ways to harm as every day we are all a little poorer and more desperate, more harmed and harming.

but NOT leaving us here

This is a clip from “Frontline Fentanyl” in which Huey Lampkin of Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users explains the economics of fentanyl. This is the clearest explanation you will ever hear of this, and it is a brilliant analysis, and really important to watch. The full documentary is here:

this is about inequality of possibility. the distance between us – in for example, the Woodwards building, emblematic of everything ever in this tiny world – between the resident of the condo building and us in supportive housing – is a distance that capitalism measures in dollars, and therefore in value. it is an unfathomable distance, a gap that that can only be crossed by a miracle like celebrity, lottery, sports stardom, or the production and sale of synthetic narcotics. but not everyone is cut out to be a pharmacist, and the slightest error or lack of care results in death. but to the best of your knowledge, this is the only means of generating wealth known to you — because criminalization and poverty and the stigma have slammed shut many doors.

In fact, the only work option

available to you is ‘dealing‘ drugs

(what with your record)

and so, hundreds are dead here. this is the world that we all have created. synthetic painkillers have more than decimated this population. this was all done out of desperation.

this is the situation in the downtown eastside.

harm reduction politics

i’ve had to make this point several times in the last few years when speaking to council. 

it would be great if nobody has to do this in the future. i’d like that. if i don’t have to point this out, that would indicate to me that we’ve made a significant change

if we refused to wait until the obituary before acknowledging that people have inherent dignity, worth, humanity, all that

if the motivating impulse is resentment, the consequences can never be productive. it seems to me that this is a big reason why the #DTES is so utterly messed up. an endless spiral of resentment & blame & regret, such fierce desire for a past that never was

blame - Edited

i have it on pretty solid authority PLUS i read it in a book AND i heard from that guy at the park that when people are elected to civic office they do not in fact become ℳagic. i think that is the opposite of democratic representation actually, just as blaming Them

blaming Them, incomprehensible Them, is to deny your own power in this world, it is saying this isn’t your history and the future can’t be yours too

or as it’s constantly said in the downtown eastside, “That’s just how it is down here”

but i have to say that i have seen people who’ve been invisibled claim their right to change the world and trust me when you feel it there’s no need to shout
or Demand


[you notice how drug users habitually mumble, talk into their chest, sentences trailing to silence? they have lots to say, they’re just used to not being listened to]

but a few hours before the polls open – after over 20 years of drug users negotiating some access to elected representatives which has resulted in Insite & a entire neighbourhood embedded (+/-) with #harmReduction services. and Ideas

but in the spring of 2016 those ideas, those ideas were frozen in time. the world had changed the neighbourhood felt – it was a siege a constant and escalating crisis

today is Day 920 of a public health emergency #bcpoli

eight months passed after that emergency was declared before the province sanctioned Overdose Prevention sites. hundreds of people were dead. that fall it rained and rained. @sarahblyth opened a tent in the alley so when you went down there were people thereto bring you back

that first breath when they suck back the air like it’s the first time thats the most amazing sound i’ll never be tired of that sound but i have to tell you i need to tell someone i’m so tired

tracey and i were going to city meetings, the mental health & addictions task force, catching shit for it too. there was the big tent day when 300 people had narcan training, which was paid for somehow from the .5% “fentanyl tax” – that was december 2016 and as i recall, not popular

yeah, i got the date right. dec 13, the following week. the radical militant take: the Evil City Used You All! when i asked them to explain, i asked, “how did they use us to have a public event (which we suggested) to do what we wanted, on our terms, to get the $ that you keep Demanding, that you say will help? please explain this to me.” nobody did. BUT i guess i suck at politics

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 5.13.39 AM.png

Vancouver approves 0.5% property tax hike to fight overdose crisis | CBC News
The tax increase will mean an extra $4 for condo owners, $11 for single family homeowners and $19 for the average commercial property.

something shifted. @sarahblyth hadn’t given up and she was tweeting constantly and probably calling the ministry of health often. lots of people were on it, but she turned this into civil disobedience,

Screenshot 2018-10-20 at 3.13.58 PM

that is,
Saving Users’ Lives is a Political Act Because Our Humanity is Worth Personal Sacrifice and Risk

Please Acknowledge the Humanness We Have in Common While I Am Alive

i just realized that earlier the same fall i organized a show at gachet (last one, turns out). i had the one thing in it, Fortress of Solitude

04_ct - Edited.jpg

sometime early february? sounds about right

i started noticing a terrible thing happening.
at first it was a look. an expression of surprise.

people started giving each other up for dead
and giving themselves to

the pursuit of oblivion
then it all got worse
(it got worse from running into someone you hadn’t seen in two weeks and one person would say “oh i figured you had died” from that it got worse)

vancouver was the north american urban centre best equipped for this it is a true fact that is a true fact you can trust me, i have historical training

and look

look what happened

is there anything we can do? anything? it was july 26 2017. karen what can we do?

said the mayor to the crackhead

right now today, #SafeSupply. all substances. multiple points of access. and by #Decriminalize – i don’t mean the thing, the “drug”

we can decriminalize people. ourselves.

this does require a shift in thinking.
and is analogous to the aids crisis. the shift came when ‘victims’ became people.

the crisis is not the drug. the crisis is a social need to sacrifice individuals who exhibit the consequences of social cruelty.

but there is no Them
and there’s no cavalry and no magic and also no mystery 

how please tell me how does it help to blame Them?

stop angrily demanding what They can’t give
build new structures – break with the past
look, the thing is everybody uses drugs


and this seems the time to say what seems obvious —
harm is reduced the moment a user comes out.

Gᴇɴᴛʟᴇɴᴇss ɪs ɴᴏᴛ ᴡᴇᴀᴋɴᴇss.
Aʀʀᴏɢᴀɴᴄᴇ ɪs ɴᴏᴛ sᴛʀᴇɴɢᴛʜ.
Jᴜsᴛɪᴄᴇ ɪs ʟᴏᴠᴇ.                          *

if we choose to become visible we might see each other clearly

acknowledge each other. and the harm. and listen close

there’s no They

it’s Just Us