NIMBY Bimbos

Claiming a neighbourhood as your own is a tricky concept. There’s issues of history, ancestry, colonialism, immigration, business, development, segregation, gentrification, etc. For Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood is now generally equated with poverty, addiction, and violence which many say grew out of the Depression era and culminated with the loss of certain mental institutions and the growth of the drug trade.

Fortunately, as many DTES residents know, there is also a deep sense of community and pride especially due to shared struggles. So when outside people offer flippant “solutions” or advice (a la Snoop Dog), or only offer criticism, it can get pretty heated and insulting. There’s no listening or empathy, and ignorance and distrust prevails.

While I’m only part of this scene in a loose sense, working as a librarian, I’ve gleaned some pretty brutal stories from some very lovely people. I can see the gentrification, and I could sense the prejudice, but I hadn’t witnessed this personally… until last week.

In January I began the planning of the 8th Annual Alley Health Fair, which is a role that the Carnegie Librarian pursues with funding from the City and from the Vancouver Public Library to offer one of several “Homeless Connect” events, in partnership with a community steering committee. We had to move out of the “alley” last year (round Carnegie Centre) because of the construction around the Regent hotel, which continues.

ahf poster

So, Columbia street just a block away from the Carnegie Centre looked appealing (between Hastings & Pender) especially since the DTES Street Market is located paces away and could provide labour, tents, tables, and clean-up.

Last year was wonderful! Even with a fire down the street and a bit of needed rain, it was great experience for my first round organizing it.  I did learn two big lessons… don’t abandon the garbage bins until the City has picked them up (the garbage got dumped and spread!) and house the hair-stylists indoors because with wind, the hair can get picked up and whisked over to the smoothie station!

This year I was most pleased to solve a problem early in February by confirming a pop-up gallery on Columbia street, with the understanding that hair stylists would be cutting hair of our guests in the premises. The owner had helped us in 2015, when I paid her for the use of electricity to power the Crystal hearing test van. I figured she must be aligned with the concept of “giving back” to the neighbourhood her business was located in, but I was very very wrong.

After months of planning, with 35 local service providers all geared up to offer AIDS testing, hearing testing, free prescription glasses, a lunch for over 1500 people, on and on, it was the day before the event. I was sitting at home, exhausted but relieved. We had done one last postering session, the word was out, and the community was excited.

And then I get a phone call at 5:30pm. It was the gallery owner calling to say that she, along with her business partner had decided that if they let the public (aka the homeless) into their gallery, we would “destroy their business.” They envisioned a plague of lice and bed bugs infusing their gallery, and the homeless stealing their “expensive artwork” which would “cost them $1000s.” My jaw dropped and I almost died from shock.

With approximately 18 hours before the event, this fool thought it proper to screw over the homeless and a City of Vancouver event to save her business. Her concerns were totally valid, perhaps back in February but it was April 18th! I had lined up volunteers to monitor and clean constantly, I had five volunteer hair stylists, and I had a ton of people anticipating a hair cut! She proposed charging me again to use her electricity, go outdoors and do things on the street, not understanding that this was no longer an option. I had 35 organizations lining the streets and a Health Inspector coming to her location.

When I suggested she was being selfish and heartless, she embraced the term saying that she felt entitled to her selfishness if it meant saving her business. Evil evil woman. I am proud to say I did not berate her with expletives or threaten her. Instead, I called the owner of the pop-up space enterprise, who apologetically switched me to the location next door and transferred the $250. Within two hours I had a solution, and it was nothing short of a miracle.

ahf 2016

But, I’m still left with this foul taste in my mouth. What kind of arrogant, ignorant fool thinks it is professional to void a contract that serves so many people with hours to spare, while milking some kind of trendy reputation for bordering the poorest neighbourhood in Canada? Well, I’ve found the term… a NIMBY Bimbo, also known as a NIMBO.

The sad part was that she wasn’t the only “business owner” to be nasty. I have a smidgen more empathy for the Chinese herbalist shop only because their sidewalk and street at Pender has been ripped apart for two years, but their attitude towards the homeless still reeks of ignorance. Chinatown is certainly being upheaved by condos and gentrification, but it doesn’t mean you direct your anger and find scapegoats within the homeless community.

I talked my way out of another bitter interaction after the festivities from a business woman who complained that two homeless people were eating dinner on her stoop, and that the street was messy in need of a street clean. I had to bite my tongue and play the game because I was so exhausted after the epic street festival! The fact of the matter was that a) the street was cleaner after the event than before the event, and b) if you operate a half block from Hastings street you should build a rapport with people by being kind, and maybe try asking them to move to a chair so the area is clear??  It’s not hard. Whatever.

It’s weird. I’m a super positive person, and I don’t want to get jaded on this scene but right now I’m really disgusted by Vancouver’s entitlement and the greed that is being increasingly injected into this city. It forces seemingly average people to be consumed with “getting ahead” for themselves alone, and all sense of goodwill and human decency is crushed.

Yesterday I was passing Columbia street, reflecting on the incredible scene that was the Alley Health Fair. There was such beautiful weather, great music, great food and good services, and I kept receiving these angelic, hopeful messages from the guests. It was like they knew I needed to be encouraged. My heart just swells thinking of some of the kind words I received from people who had nothing, and who had no idea how much I needed some support. Suddenly, I see her in front of me… the Nimbo, sneaking into her gallery. Tempting as it was to heckle her, I just couldn’t be bothered.

The night before I had wept, and it helped to calm me. I was so tired from the event, and I was so emotionally spent. I wept for the people who desperately needed food, being the day before Cheque day. I wept for the deranged man with spit and snot pouring from his face as three Police wrestled him. I wept for the youth I witnessed whipping a rat to death in the alley. I wept for the crying man on the sidewalk. And then I wept for the selfish and prayed that I would not be one of them.

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