AP Human Geography students spend an afternoon immersed in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

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The Union Gospel Mission

On Tuesday the 16th of October, Mr. Ziff and Mrs. McLean’s AP Human Geography classes visited Canada’s most impoverished neighborhood, the Downtown Eastside (DTES). Volunteers at Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission guided a tour, introducing students to the many service providers, shelters, and support groups available to DTES residents. On the list of stops as well was the infamous Oppenheimer Park, made notorious as the principal hub of Vancouver’s crack/cocaine trade. The tour proved to be quite revealing, exposing some of neighborhood’s characteristics that typically go unnoticed. The group observed, amongst the destitution, a true sense of community linking the homeless and service workers, along with a striking humility and appreciation in those that have sought refuge in the arms of the UGM.

The intention of the visit was to experience the DTES on a more human plane, witnessing the neighborhood not as the distant indeterminate land known only to many Vancouverites through the media, but as place of relevance and a home to Canadians just like the rest of us. “Astonishingly, I’ve never even walked though the Downtown Eastside, it was interesting to see!” remarked one grade 11 student. As expected, the more widely discussed and prevailing concerns were explained and debated, however; “In addition,” as Ms. McLean put it, “we also looked at the positive steps that people in the Downtown Eastside are taking to tackle these problems head on, and to build community spirit.”

All who participated could agree that, while confronting such privation directly was unnerving and uncomfortable at times, the experience was truly educational and provided a unique outlook on the Downtown Eastside varying considerably from the pessimistic imagery provided in the media.