Thursday, August 19, 2010


The West Coast is full of juxtaposition. For all of the lush green rain forest, there is plenty of harsh, grey concrete. For the still soothing sounds of ocean waters there is the drone of traffic congestion and road construction.


...for all of the bmw's and yachts floating in Coal Harbour there are shopping carts piled high with worldly possessions on East Hastings.

Our house is a relatively quick drive from downtown Vancouver - fifteen minutes straight down Hastings if the traffic is moving well. Anyone who's been to Vancouver knows that there are a few blocks on Hastings known as "The Downtown Eastside" which are notorious for its' population of the homeless and addicted. Anytime we drive downtown we drive straight through it. You can't avoid it. The faces and bodies displayed for all. And for this I am grateful.

As long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with The Downtown Eastside. If you know me at all, you know I'm a news and documentary junkie. Have been since I was a child. I think I was the only kid in elementary school who had to watch the headlines on "The National" before going to bed at night. I can remember being mesmerized by stories I'd see on CBC from Vancouver's streets - fascinated with the stories and lives each statistic represented. As the CBC motto states, "Canada Lives Here" - and the part of Canada that interested me throughout my life were those few blocks on Hastings where "Canada" lives.

And so, now I am forced to confront the reality of The Downtown Eastside regularly - not with the glass of a t.v. screen between me and the people I see, but the glass of my van window.

I made myself a promise when I moved here. A simple one. It went like this... when I drive through The Downtown Eastside I will not look away. I will not avoid the faces and the hollow eyes. I will not look down when someone staggers toward my van. I will look. I will see. I will acknowledge. Because it is the grim reality of life that I am focussing on. It is life worth looking at.

My promise went deeper. Beyond my eyes. Into the hearts of my three girls. I want them to see - to look - to acknowledge too. Each time we drive downtown we talk about the people we see strewn across the sidewalk on Hastings. It's critical for me. I desperately desire my girls to know that the world is so much bigger and more colorful than comfortable houses and 3 square meals a day. And so, the questions abound. Yesterday evening as we drove through, Sasha asked "Do you think I will ever be homeless and living here?" And we talked and said we didn't think so, but sometimes life can throw you harsh doses of tragedy that our biggest hopes and dreams for her can't compensate for.

The truth is - she could. And if that be her fate one day, I pray someone looks at her face and validates her existence as they drive by in their mini van.


  1. I LOVE you and the inspiration you throw my way. Striving to instill compassion in my children as well.

  2. A beautiful post, Karla. My heart wants and needs that for me and for my boys as well. So real. Thank you.

  3. I have had and still do have those same feelings and have had similar discussions with my girls as well. Thank you for putting into words what I have had on my heart and not known how to express.I love how you are able to write and show us a piece of you that we may not have known before.
    Thank you Karla

  4. Thank you for reminding me that there is so much more than just me...

  5. yes, that homeless person could be me or you. no one is "too good" or "too lucky" for that...
    your eyes offer grace, your glance gives dignity.

  6. oh Karla, this post resonates with me so deeply. when we were on are way back from Stanley Park this summer we were asked if we wanted to detour east hastings or drive through. without hesitation i wanted to drive straight through. for me, for our Jo and I could have a conversation right there and then with Samuel, Caleb and Anaya. somehow i become personally convicted about my own struggles that can hide behind the nice house or new clothes. as we drove further I noticed a group that had formed a circle, laughing, singing....yes, addictions were present, the struggles were there, but I said to Jo. Look we all need community no matter who we are, each of us. We need to feel connected and loved and valued.

  7. That's so true, Judith. Every time we drive by I am struck by the deep sense of community I see... they have their own leaders, helpers, trouble-makers, mothers, fathers.... and the list goes on. We all want to belong somewhere.

  8. Great post, Karla - you've really got a gift with your writing. However, you weren't the only kid in elementary school watching 'The National' - I used to kick it with Walter every night watching not only that, but 'The Journal' (with Knowlton Nash), as well as 'Nightly Business Report' and 'Wall Street Week' (Friday nights) on PBS ;-)

  9. Karla, karla. What a treat.
    Unbelievably, I am reading a book right now by Gabor Mate on his career as a doctor in Vancouver's downtown east side. It is a fascinating and compassionate, intelligent expose on addiction. You must read it.
    I resonate with every single word you wrote here.
    I like the way you replied to Sasha's question. It reaches the heart of the people who live there. PEOPLE. Wouldn't it be lovely if just a little love were enough to "rescue" all those people? It is so complex. But I love your human, holy approach.
    xo xo.
    Please take me through there when I come. This is something I wanted to do, and this post has made me very grateful.

  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful reflections, Karla. Oscar Wilde put it this way: "For one moment our lives met, our souls touched."