I moved to Vancouver in 2002 and was able to rent a room in a house of a few hundred dollars. The following year I rented half of a house for $400 (it was a small house, but still!). Writing from 2019 those times seem farther away than just 17 years.
For the past 13 years, I have worked in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, a very interesting neighbourhood where it is difficult not to see the gap between rich and poor everywhere you look.
I want to be clear that I am in no way proposing I have any answer to the issue of housing in Vancouver, or the multitude of issues that people in the downtown eastside are confronted with as they struggle to survive and thrive in life. I want to also highlight that I do not consider my own struggles to be on the same level of many of the people I serve and have served in my neighbourhood.
However, I find it somehow useful to record a bit of my own experience and my perceptions from my time here in Vancouver. I consider Vancouver my home, met and got married here, and have three wonderful children who were born in this city. Yet while I feel belonging here (as much as I can belong on unceeded territory as a settler, which is a whole other ball of wax that I recognize) I am more certain that I will have to leave Vancouver than I will be able to afford to stay here. I sometimes relate to people that living in Vancouver it is not a question of if friends will move, but rather when. Every school picture and birthday party reveals empty spaces where close friends used to be, friends that have moved somewhere where they can afford to exist and escape the constant threat of eviction, renoviction, substandard housing, and never having enough space. There is something that connects the disparity of fortune in the downtown eastside and all the hopelessness that most people —singles, couples, and families—feel about sustainable existence in Vancouver. This song is my lament for all of this, my confession of my own hopelessness, and my expression of the seemingly impossible challenge of living in this city that I love, a problem that stays with me like a splinter.
Beggars and Limousines
Junkies and beauty queens
Hitting the streets on a Friday night
All looking for the same thing
This city eats its young
So, sister, turn and run
The divide it has become
Too deep for anyone
I’d like to say there is a hope
I wish there was a way
But each day here feels like one closer to moving away
Two jobs and school at night
no end or relief in sight
I forgot to invest what I never had
And toil is the price of that life