Vancouver's Mayor Robertson appears in the sobering documentary 'Streets of Plenty'
When it comes to the homelessness story in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, most of the media coverage is pretty predictable. The narrative goes something like this. There are thousands of homeless people wandering the streets and not enough is being done to help them. However, Corey Ogilvie, a Vancouver-based filmmaker and the brothers Misha & Alex Kleider (main subject & camera operator of the documentary), are breaking all those conventional rules when it comes to reporting on life in Canada's poorest postal code.
In their documentary that can be seen in its entirety on YouTube titled Streets of Plenty, the viewer is challenged to observe the Downtown Eastside in a very different way. Although there are times when the film feels a bit more like Rick Mercer meets 60 Minutes, it is one of the more interesting takes I've seen on what has clearly become a desperate situation.
The filmmaker and his subject Misha Kleider is trying to get a clear message across to viewers that providing homeless shelters for drug addicted individuals is not going to solve the neighbourhood's drug problems. There are many uncomfortable scenes throughout the film, including one in which a nurse at Insite, Canada'a only supervised injection site, helps Kleider with the mechanics of his first heroin injection.
Through the use of hidden cameras and time-lapse photography, you get to see what life is like in the Downtown Eastside in a way I believe no other filmmaker has captured. It's gritty, inspiring and depressing all at the same time.
In the last few minutes of the documentary, Kleider interviews Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson regarding his take on drug addiction and homelessness:
Misha Kleider: I lived on the streets for almost a month. I tried the hardest drugs out there. Crack, heroin. One thing that became very clear was that addiction is a major cause of homelessness. So if you're going to solve homelessness, you need to solve addiction.
Gregor Robertson: The addiction challenge is very difficult for us. It's a tough one to break. And uh...we're seeing some success now with the shelters and basically saying its okay, you can come in if your still using. You can use these shelters to at least get a good meal and get 8 hours of sleep.
Kleider: But 95% of addiction treatments fail. What's going to happen when you provide all these homeless addicts with free housing? Instead of dying from their addiction on the street, they are going to die from addiction in the free homes that you're giving them. But they are still going to die. That seems like a band-aid and not a solution.
Gregor Robertson: Well it's a band-aid. But if...uh...people are literally dying on the streets you got to look at what pieces you can support them on. I mean if you don't come in with a whole complement of support, then where is the hope? Until you work upstream, until we're working with people and making sure they don't go into that dead end of addiction, it's going to be damage control.
Kleider: Do you honestly think you can end homelessness?
Gregor Robertson: When I say end homelessness or that we...that we...do a lot better on addictions and for treatment. Uh..There is so much more that can be done. Can we ever get all the way there and to utopia? Let's be realistic. It's not going to be like that. We have got to have shelters and housing options that are permissive and that take people from where they are and meet them where they're at.
Kleider: Good Luck.
With the ominous sounds of guitar strings in the background, Kleider looks up in the air, with an exasperated expression in response to Robertson's answers to his questions.
As we reported here previously, the City of Vancouver has "unofficially" abandoned its internationally recognized Four Pillars Drug Strategy since Mayor Robertson was elected in 2008. Donald Macpherson, Vancouver's former Drug Policy Program Coordinator, quit a few months ago in order to work in the private sector. As for the Four Pillars Coalition chaired by the Mayor, it rarely convenes for a meeting. And when it does, the main focus of discussion is on the more politically palatable prevention pillar. Advocates for a second supervised injection site also appear to have given up hope this Mayor will support their request.
I'd recommend Streets of Plenty to anyone interested in knowing more about what life is like in the Downtown Eastside. You may not agree with these filmmaker's take on the situation, but it most certainly provides viewers with a perspective of this gritty neighbourhood that you don't always see in the mainstream media.