By Tamara Loyer (with Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw)
My last days on the street at age 49 were in my safe sleep zone, on a park bench in Coal Harbour. It had a beautiful view, with planes, cruise ships, cranes and a nice and rich neighborhood.
One day, a beer bottle was smashed against my head by a screaming drunk man. As I desperately tried to get out of my sleeping bag, the man kept kicking me. He broke my leg.
Outside the hospital, in a cast and on crutches, I walked through the alleys of downtown. I was vulnerable. Injured. Disabled and alone.
This is not uncommon with older DTES residents. Only. Alone.
I found refuge with Atira. I started with a large room in support housing. The Atira team was nice and friendly with trans. I recovered a lot over 12 years there – not just in health. Legally, mentally, socially and personally.
I made the transition due to the great support.
Now, I’m independent. I work part-time with Atira and on the Beyond The Street show while studying astrophysics.
In 2021, more than 2,200 died from supplies of poisoned drugs – a 26% increase from 2020. Our friends and family are dying every day – seven a day in November and December.
COVID, moreover, devastated the DTES. These deaths are currently concentrated in the DTES – where the average resident dies decades earlier than in other census tracts in the metropolitan region.
It’s hard not to despair and fall back into depression. I feel trapped here with no opportunity or options.
We need more options outside of DTES. While the support housing is far from perfect, it saves lives, lives like mine. That’s why we should build Arbutus and West 8th support housing. It’s not perfect, but it will save lives. The entire city has a responsibility to act to prevent these unnecessary deaths.
The lack of affordable, social solidarity housing throughout the city has limited the options of those struggling against poverty and oppression and concentrated misery.
There are also drug users already living in this neighborhood. Providing them with a safe, welcoming and supportive home will only help them to heal. Arbutus Street Solidarity Housing will provide 129 homes for these people and help them get off the streets.
There is a lot of opposition to this project and a lot of misinformation. Please have empathy. Housing insecurity can happen to anyone – you, your friends, your family. Please give us options and spaces to heal.
Please write to support this desperately needed project, before comments close on Friday, June 24th, with “strawberry tree support housing” in the subject line.