I get so frustrated with people judging an entire people or area without actually getting to know those people or the area. For example, the Downtown Eastside is the place I feel the safest in Metro Vancouver, which comes as a shock to many. A few nights ago, around 10 pm, I was double-checking a few measurements for an accessibility audit and a person who was setting up his bed under a business’ awning came over and held a flashlight over my tape measure and paper until I was done.
There is a great community in the DTES. There are so many kind, compassionate, protective people. If I have a mobility aid, I am immediately seen as part of the community, as someone who knows judgement, misperception, and bias, and I am watched over and helped if I ever need it. When I used my wheelchair full-time, it regularly broke down and I always hoped I would be in the DTES if it did as there were always DTES residents who would stop to see if I needed help, who would keep me company if I needed to wait for help, who would help push it into the vehicle if needed. Even when I was not in the DTES, when I lived in Maple Ridge, it was people who were homeless who stopped to help me the majority of the time.
It pains me that people make blanket judgements of people who they haven’t interacted with or who they’ve interacted with in such a condescending way that the experience was not good. I once worked a job doing audits and heard that the other auditors were saying that they needed two auditors to go for safety so I volunteered to audit that area and the management did not want to allow me because I had a disability (the other staff did not) and it took some convincing to get them to believe that that worked in my favour because those of us who are disabled, homeless, living in poverty, and/or using drugs, we have an understanding of what it is to be written off by people who don’t even know us, and there is a community, a bonding, and a watchful eye for one another.
In the work I do, I work with so many great activists, advocates, DTES champions, and people from the Downtown Eastside, they are passionate, resilient people who do the work for themselves but also because they long for a world in which no one else is treated as they have been.
I say this all because it is important for people to think about where they are getting their perceptions and information about communities and people. All too often, people make their minds up without ever having experienced an area or population or they go in with such a negative attitude that they are not going to have anything but a negative experience. Or they make their minds up via biased articles and political commentary. I watch people go into the DTES, who have already made their minds up, and it is so frustrating because there are so many lives, personalities, and intentions that are completely overlooked.
My work is community-focused. Disability Justice is acknowledging that the systems have failed disabled people, specifically those who are queer, trans, black, indigenous, and/or people of colour. Disability Justice is all about building community and people coming together to find the solutions that we know we can’t find or rely upon within the systems and structures that are supposedly set up to help us but which don’t really see us as people, individuals, beings with inherent worth. The DTES is a good model for the type of community building that Disability Justice is all about and I feel that every time I visit it.