Life in the Downtown Eastside

By Joan Morelli, DTES Power of Women group


Life in the Downtown Eastside is very often tinged with violence from strangers, service providers, and the police. We suffer particularly from the cruelty of poverty. Living in poverty erodes one’s feeling of adequacy and diffuses one’s confidence and sense of self-worth. It is a struggle to maintain one’s dignity when one has to tolerate sneers and jeers from the public. The stereotype of poverty is an addicted person who lives in the Downtown Eastside. But the faces of poverty are diverse and can be found all over BC, which has the highest child poverty rate, the highest cost of housing, and the lowest minimum wage.

In particular, single parents endure crushing levels of poverty in this province. Fifty-six percent of lone parent families headed by women are poor, compared with 24% of those headed by men. One-third of BC welfare recipients are single-parent families, 88% headed by women. Single parents do our best to provide a good home for our children. If we are forced to accept housing that we do not find adequate for our needs, there is a tendency in many cases to blame ourselves and to feel guilty, although we are trying our best to care for our family.

And even though the very roof over our heads is constantly under threat by the greed of developers and the government who seeks to control us, we still carry on with persistence. We support the homeless, victims of violence, those with addictions, and people suffering from mental health. We demonstrate, talk to politicians, send delegations to City Council, and raise awareness to the public.

Daily, we remind ourselves that our oppressors cannot take our power away. Our power can only be taken from us if we give it away. Not even involuntarily or unintentionally will we relinquish our power! We remember that “What does not kill us only makes us stronger.” The Twisted Sister’s Song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” often runs through my head. Yes, our earning capacity might not be up to many others in society, but we are not ruthless, we do not worship money, we keep our values, and we have a rich spirit. On the other hand, those who have a poverty of spirit number many, and among them you will find politicians, police officers, and big businesses. They think they are strong, but we believe we are stronger.

– Joan Morelli is a member of the DTES Power of Women Group and has resided in Canada for over thirty years and has raised her children on limited wages. She has been a tireless activist, actor, and writer in the Downtown Eastside for approximately two decades. As long as she breathes she truly believes that we must fight for housing and that housing is a universal right, and that no one should have to live and suffer in poverty.

This story is part of the Downtown Eastside Power of Women “Power Hour” column. We are a group of women in the DTES who are or have been homeless; living in shelters and on the streets. Many of us are single mothers or have had our children apprehended due to poverty; most of us have chronic physical or mental health issues; many have drug or alcohol addictions; and a majority have experienced sexual violence and mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional abuse.  For Indigenous women, we are affected by the racist legacy of residential schools. We are from all walks of life, surviving in extreme poverty and building a family with each other.

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