Friday, January 30, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Incendiary Incendio. A former tenant in the rooming house at 90 Alexander St. above the Incendio restaurant, has questions about the fire on Jan. 6 at 5 a.m. that left all tenants evicted. It took the fire department “about an hour to arrive” – even though there is a fire station just a block away at Main & Powell.
Tenants had evacuated, knowing that this was a real fire. Although it was not unusual for the fire alarm to go off in the building, says a tenant, "This time the sprinkler system went off." One tenant recalls waiting and waiting outside for the firemen. "I was thinking, 'They'll be hear in a minute or two'; then I'd think, "Another minute or two, then they'll be here."
Fire damage in the kitchen of Incendio. Photo from UrbanDiner.ca
It has been pointed out that in an emergency situation, people waiting for help can have a different sense of time; they can feel that things are taking longer than they really are. But even if we take that into account, the reaction time here seems uncharacteristically slow for the Vancouver Fire Department. Any Downtown Eastsider can tell you that if a junkie overdoses on the street or somebody is having a heart attack, the VFD fire trucks often beat police or ambulances to the scene.
Even when firemen did arrive, it seemed to the tenant that they “loafed around”. Firemen tried to force open a door and then they gave up; then they walked over to a fire truck and did something there. There seemed to be “no leadership”, says the tenant. “Nobody was giving orders.” The resident described how frustrating it was to watch these firemen. “It was like, “Put out the fire! It’s over there! We all know where it is!”
Tenants believe it was a little too convenient for the offshore owner that the rooming house burned unchecked for some time before firemen dealt with it. "That's a valuable building", said a former tenant, as if that explained everything. The tenant noted that some of the suites in that building have a “million dollar view” of the harbor. The landlord would have been unable under the law to evict the current lower income tenants and 'go condo' in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. A one bedroom suite with a spectacular view was housing a couple and renting for a mere $850 per month, according to tenants.
Photo: Rooming house over Incendio restaurant at Powell & Columbia St.
Several tenants would like to move back into the rooming house. They've been told that it will be six months before renovations are finished, but they doubt they will ever be allowed to move back in. The fire was allowed to burn long enough that the landlord may be in a position to circumvent laws that curb the practice of evicting lower income tenants, doing renovations -- workmen were there yesterday doing renovations -- and then jacking up the rents. “If there is structural damage and the floors are burned,” says a former tenant, “they can say, “It’s not safe, you have to move out.” Indeed, all tenants were told to move, even though only the suites immediately above the restaurant stove, where the fire is believed to have started, were damaged.
Photo from UrbanDiner.ca
A former tenant is under the impression that after the fire started in the Incendio stove, "it went up the pipes and burned out the suites overhead". But the tenant is convinced that if firemen had arrived promptly, fire damage would have been minimal, and a mass eviction would have been unnecessary.
"Do you think maybe they weren't called right away?", I asked, suddenly catching on to what the tenant had been insinuating. The tenant would say only that there were questions. "I'm trying to let it go", said the tenant, who was a little stressed during our conversation, less than a week after being evicted and scrambling to move into a seedy hotel room on Hastings.
This isn’t the first time, firemen have had to deal with a fire in the Incendio stove. I recall walking a friend home about a year ago and finding the air in that area a bit smoky; there were particles in the air. The next day, my friend told me that the wood stove at Incendio, the one used for cooking pizza, had caught fire. The fireman were able to get the fire contained more quickly that time.
The tenant says of the latest fire. “There are ways to make a fire happen eventually; you can avoid maintaining the stove.”
"But Incendio doesn’t own that building," I said, thinking that they would have nothing to gain from the eviction of tenants. "No, they lease", said the tenant. "They'll get fire insurance. That business wasn't doing very well."
There is no solid evidence of wrongdoing against anybody. Not against the operators of Incendio, not against the offshore owner, not against the fire department who may or may not have been called promptly. It's just that evicted tenants can start thinking along the same lines as fire insurance investigators: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The Downtown Eastsider who mentioned the incident didn't know much about it, but he said, "Her picture is all over the place." He was referring to the photocopied photo of an aboriginal woman on bulletin boards around the Downtown Eastside, announcing a memorial.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Police and ambulance workers arrived on this foggy night and the body was covered with a white sheet. Yellow police tape cordoned off the scene, but the Main St. door of the Ivanhoe Pub remained open and customers continued to go in and out.
A man who lives in the Ivanhoe and works in the bar stood outside on the sidewalk and said of the apparent suicide victim, "It's not the first time he's tried." He said the man, whom he estimated to be around 60 years old, previously "drove into the cement barriers at the sky train". He knew the man personally as he was a "regular" in the bar and had lived in a room at the hotel for about five months. The man had previously lived in Ontario.
The Constitution prescribes the text: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Here's a transcript of how it was actually recited this morning:
ROBERTS: I, Barack Hussein Obama...
OBAMA: I, Barack... [Obama may have jumped in too early here to repeat his name, but Roberts then interrupted him.]
ROBERTS: ... do solemnly swear...
OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...
ROBERTS: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully... [Roberts makes two mistakes here: the word "faithfully" should come before "execute", and the word "to" the United States should be "of".]
OBAMA: ... that I will execute... [Obama repeats Roberts' mistake of failing to say the word "faithfully" before "execute". Obama nods at Roberts at this point, like a teacher prompting a student to try again.]
ROBERTS: ... faithfully the office of president of the United States... [It should be "faithfully execute" the office...]
OBAMA: ... the office of president of the United States faithfully... [Now Obama echoes Roberts' earlier mistake, saying "faithfully" after "United States".]
ROBERTS: ... and will to the best of my ability...
OBAMA: ... and will to the best of my ability...
ROBERTS: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
OBAMA: ... preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
ROBERTS: So help you God?
OBAMA: So help me God.
ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.
Such muddling of the oath could lead a listener to, as George W. Bush would put it, "misunderestimate" these men.
I listened to Alexander read her poem live and the part about love stuck with me:
"What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance."
It sounded to me like she was saying, 'Love, but don't let it interfere with paying the reparations.' "
Alexander wouldn't want grievances preempted as identity politics has been a family business. She is head of African American studies at Yale. Her mother has taught Black women's history for years.
[A few minutes later, civil rights leader Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, now in his eighties, injected a particularly dated version of identity politics into his inaugural benediction. "Lord...we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back ...when white will embrace what is right."]
When Alexander was recognizing the working class in her poem, including the Black working class, who had "laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce", it reminded me of the speech former social democratic Premier Dave Barrett gave when he was announcing the BC Day holiday. I didn't hear the speech but a friend recently was reciting what he remembered of it. Barrett had apparently said this holiday was in recognition of the people who had built the bridges ...he listed types of labour done by the working class, just as Alexander did.
The left has definitely gained ground in the U.S.
'Praise Song for the Day' - Transcript
Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”
We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”
We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.
Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Students and staff were super courteous, just like servers in expensive restaurants.
Everybody got a mixture of brown and white meat with gravy, mashed potatoes, and a steamed vegetable mix of carrots, brocolli, and cauliflower. The cranberry sauce tasted fresh-made and wasn't overly sweet. There was also a lettuce side salad with a tangy oil and vinegar dressing.
The free dinner came with a million dollar view. We sat in the "lower dining room" of the split level cafeteria, and had the above view of Victory Square.
You didn't have to be poor to attend the dinner but many people there were from the Downtown Eastside. It's the tail end of a five week welfare month -- cheques come out this Wednesday -- so even the most hardened Downtown Eastsiders were in a good mood as they got a free full course meal. And got treated like they had gold credit cards.
Last night a homeless guy who brought his shopping cart into McDonald's restaurant on Main near Terminal was told to leave. He left yelling. Last week, he cut his hair and shaved in the eating area. That guy might go to a shelter if he knew the one at First United takes shopping carts.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Geez it was cold last night.
First United Church at Hastings & Gore on the Downtown Eastside is now operating as a 21 hour shelter, according to Audrey Laferriere who ran for Council on the homeless issue.
Photo: Audrey Laferriere holds microphone at All Candidates meeting at Carnegie Center on Downtown Eastside in 2008, as she talks about homeless issue.
"There still is a lot of homeless that do not know that the First United Church Mission is now a 21 hour shelter. The shelter providers are not doing a very good job getting the word out. I emailed HEAT (Mayor Gregor Robertson) on December 23rd that each lamp standard in the City should have a poster advising of this needed shelter but never heard anything from him. I was at the First United Shelter yesterday and was told that they had very little problems considering the 200 plus they look after each night."
The shelter accepts pets, carts, couples, singles, children, and teenagers. "Nobody turned away,"announces a poster put up this afternoon on the bulletin board at Carnegie Center.
The shelter opens at 8 p.m. in the evening and stays open until 5 p.m. the next day.
First United Church stopped functioning as a church with regular services and was turned into a mission some time ago. First United's former minister, Ruth Wright -- nicknamed 'Ruthless Wrong' by homeless William Simpson when an employee at the DugOut Drop-In, funded by the United Church, allegedly whacked two people across the head with a two by four -- once told the media that she should qualify for campground funding considering the number of homeless sleeping there.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Roughly a thousand people turned up at the sprawling Schara Tzedeck Synagogue on Oak St. in Vancouver on Thursday evening to a high security – no purse or back pack got through the door unexamined -- “Community Solidarity Gathering for Israel”. Some in the overflow crowd at the rally organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver were turned away. There was simply no more room. Even the balcony was jam-packed.
“There is a battle for truth,” speaker Dr. James Lunney, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Committee, told the crowd.
“Hamas fired more than 450 rockets into Israel in the week leading up to Israel’s response”, Lunney said. The Canadian government sees the conflict this way: “Hamas is responsible for the current crisis.”
You won’t find the current Conservative Canadian government in the middle of the road on the Israeli-Gaza conflict, Lunney explained. Being the MP for Nanaimo-Alberni on Vancouver Island, he used a forestry industry analogy: If you’re driving along the road and you turn a corner and see a logging truck coming toward you, the last place you want to be is in the middle of the road. Laughter. On the Israeli-Hamas conflict, Lunney said, “The middle of the road is neither a right place or a safe place.”
Yet the middle of the road is exactly where past Canadian governments have been, Lunney said. They have taken a “moral equivalence” approach to the two sides in Israeli-Palestinian tensions, “condemning neither, supporting neither”. That’s over. “The Canadian government sees no moral equivalence between Israel, a vibrant if imperfect democracy, and Hamas…”, Lunney said. He described Hamas as “terrorists who use military aggression…using their neighbors, including women and children as shields.”
Like Lunney, grade 12 student Igal Raich sees the Israel-Hamas conflict as a battle for truth. There was one lie Raich was particularly eager to set the record straight on when he took the podium: “Israel does not intentionally kill women and children but attacks rocket launchers. But they [Hamas] are using women and children as human shields.”
Raich, who announced that he will be joining the Israel Defense Forces when he graduates this year, is a product of the David Project at King David school in Vancouver. “The David project empowers us to confront and respond to anti-Israel bias”, he said. In the Project, students are taught “historical accuracy, moral decision-making, and activism.”
Raich went to the anti-Israel demonstration in downtown Vancouver on Dec. 29th. “I didn’t go to cheer them on”, he said. “I went to protest against the continual bombardment of Southern Israel by Hamas.”
A giant video screen at the front of the room allowed the crowd to see speakers, including Anglican Reverend Dr. Richard Leggett who said they had been told to "keep it short".
Setting the record straight was also a goal of Dr. Michael Elterman, Chair of the Pacific Region Canada Israel Committee. Claims made about Israel in the media, he said, are too often “ill-informed and intellectually lazy”. He saw the claim that Israel is contributing to a “cycle of violence” as a prime example. “It confuses the pyromaniac with the firefighter.”
Another on the long list of claims Elterman challenged was that Israel is using “disproportionate force”. “Israel under reacted for 8 years,” he said, “which only acted to encourage Hamas.”
The dearth of balanced reporting on the Israel-Hamas conflict was a problem that Elterman saw as extending to anti-Israel protesters – including the fifteen or so standing on the sidewalk outside. As Israel supporters entered the rally, protesters had stood on the sidewalk loudly chanting, “Hey, hey, Israel! How many people have you killed today!” Elterman asked the crowd, “Where were the protesters outside tonight when Israeli civilians were being terrorized and rocketed for eight years?” When you leave tonight, he urged, “Ask them.”
The Vancouver rally was one of several held in major cities across Canada on Thursday evening. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud spoke to the rally via a pre-taped video. He explained that in response to Hamas “firing rockets, missiles, and mortar shells directly into population centers”, Israel was pressed to act to ensure the “security and safety” of it’s citizens. “This is what Canada would have done for the people living in Toronto”.
After the rally, which ended with a “Song of Peace”, the anti-Israel protesters were nowhere to be seen outside. But uniformed police were everywhere.
To read the speakers list from the rally, enlarge the photo below by clicking on it.
Friday, January 9, 2009
High speed appears to have been a factor in a two car accident beside the Shell station at Main & 2nd Ave. at about 11:00 p.m. Thursday night.
“They were definitely going fast, very fast”, said Gafar, the cashier inside the Shell station who was serving a customer when he heard the crash. It is unclear whether both vehicles were traveling at high speed though.
“They had to cut him out,” Gafar said, pointing to the open flap on the hood of the red car which lay on its side.
Gafar said he overheard one of the cops say, “We were looking for him.”Gafar said there wasn't just one noise upon impact but a long sequence of loud noises. “I heard ‘Pow!, Pow!, Pow!, Pow!, Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!” Gafar estimated that these noises had continued “for one or two minutes”. He asked his customer what had happened. The customer’s first response was, “Maybe the bus crashed.” But Gafar said they soon realized that the cars were right outside the window of the store.
“They were both unconscious,” said Gafar, who saw one victim removed from the red car on it’s side and another removed from a black car sitting right side up a few meters up the street.
Gafar asked one of the cops about the victim in the red car. “Is he dead?” The cop responded, “We’re working on him.”
Gafar said the accident could have been much worse. He pointed to the gas tanks outside the convenience store where there is a constant flow of people driving or walking through.
Gafar, an immigrant who speaks competent English, emphasized that it was his impression that there had been a "chase" going on when the accident occurred.
A male bystander said, "I think one of the wheels on the car is missing."
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
This morning was the "Grand Re-opening" of Vancouver's historic Pennsylvania Hotel at the corner of Carroll & Hastings on the Downtown Eastside. About a century ago, it was a swank hotel advertised as having a telephone in every room, but it has recently been turned into supportive housing for the poor and screwed up.
The Pennsylvania Hotel, which many Downtown Eastsiders call "The Portland" as that's what it's been called for years, has been empty since 2000. A hand-out published by the Portland Hotel Society which will be operating the Pennsylvania didn't conceal their disdain for gentrification in the neighborhood. "We didn't want it to become condos or turned into a Backpacker or Tourist Hotel."
So they worked to turn it into supportive housing. "Eventually, we cobbled together the money to renovate the building so that each room has its own bathroom and small kitchen. The Hotel will also receive a subsidy allowing for rents of $375/month and 24-hour staffing."
Photo above: Portland Society Co-Director Liz Evans on the stage in the basement of the Pennsylvania Hotel.
Photo above: Liz Evans behind microphone during second part of the opening which took place outside the Pennsylvania on the corner of Hastings & Carroll St. Mayor Robertson is on the right of the photo.
Liz Evans who co-directs the Portland Hotel Society with her spouse Mark Townsend -- the PHS also operates Insite, the supervised drug injection site on the same block -- was MC at the Opening. Evans is a psych nurse and about 15 years ago was listed in the Globe & Mail as one of Canada's young up and comers to be watched. But a few Downtown Eastsiders believe there are other reasons she should be watched.
Psych nurses have gained a reputation for unchecked abuses of power on the Downtown Eastside. A few years ago, when evidence surfaced to support serious allegations against nurse Don Getz of making fraudulent entries in a psychiatric report arranged for political ends against a normal Downtown Eastside resident, a few Downtown Eastside men came forward and said, 'While we're on the topic of psych nurse abuse, why not look at Liz Evans?"
There are allegations that early in her career in Vancouver, Evans abused her influence as a psych nurse to contact a psychiatrist and falsely portray a woman, Christa, as needing mental health intervention. This tactic was allegedly used during a struggle by Evans and her spouse to get lease-holder Christa, to move out of a house they shared in the Strathcona neighborhood. Terrified of being committed, Christa, moved out of the house. According to a friend, Christa gets 'chills up her spine' to this day when she comes across Liz Evans. [Jim Green, who helped found the Portland Hotel Society and would later run for mayor, also lived in Strathcona; he met Evans in the neighborhood and recruited her to work on supportive housing. He gave her a kiss at the opening today.]
There is also an allegation that during the same period of Evans' career, she had a sexual relationship with a mentally ill man she had been hired to care for; he later had a breakdown.
Evans would no doubt deny these allegations. But if she is going to be operating "supportive" housing for the government, there should be an independent investigation into such allegations made by men who knew her at the time this alleged misconduct occurred.
That was then. This is now. But it remains important that an investigation take place as today's praise by Evans and her PHS associates of their 'partner' in the development of this supportive housing, the Carnegie Community Action Project -- the praise appeared in the introductory paragraph of the glossy handout at the opening -- suggests that not much progress has been made. The endorsement of Carnegie suggests that Evans is willing to overlook the very type of abuse that Downtown Eastsiders fear could occur at the Pennsylvania: people who can't afford lawyers will be easy targets for fraudulent claims entered into reports should they criticize staff [CUPE members].
Carnegie is notorious for this type of abuse of the poor and the homeless. One of many cases is that of homeless William Simpson who was barred from entering Carnegie after he managed to get himself elected to the Carnegie Board. When the barring was exposed, the damage control strategy involved concocting entirely unsupported claims about Simpson posing a "WorkSafe risk".
When I saw the throng of reporters packed around the stage where Liz Evans stood in the basement of the Pennsylvania, and heard a panicky CKNW reporter pleading with people on the jammed staircase to let her get down there, I wondered why such a big deal was being made of this opening. But when Evans introduced Mayor Gregor Robertson and Housing Minister Rich Coleman, I understood. Homelessness is a big deal. Politicians are eager to show local voters and the world that action is being taken on homelessness. (This morning Vancouver radio host Nicki Renshaw said that when she was in London, England for Christmas, the tv news was reporting that homeless people were dying on the snowy streets of Vancouver.)
Robertson reminded the crowd that homelessness was a priority of his government. But first he doused the crowd with political correctness by stating that this event was taking place on "Coast Salish traditional territory". Robertson also said that organizers of the Pennsylvania had spent many years of their lives bringing this supportive housing project to completion. He didn't mention that many were well paid for their time; we have no idea how much PHS executives were paid because they wouldn't release those figures when the Courier newspaper asked them to. And Robertson thanked the ultimate supporter of this supportive housing, "the taxpayer".
Photo above: Rich Coleman, BC Minister of Housing
BC Housing Minister Rich Coleman also spoke to the packed crowd in the basement of the Pennsylvania. Coleman said of this supported housing, "It's not about bricks and mortar; it's about people."
Photo above: Pennsylvania resident Earle Crowe stands behind the microphone on the left of the photo as Housing Minister Rich Coleman (seated) looks on.
The crowd also heard from Earle Crowe, a resident of the Pennsylvania Hotel. Crowe said he'd moved in after being homeless for 3 years. What he didn't say is that he had the right connections and the right politics to get in. It pays to be on the political left or to at least be non-threateningly apolitical if you want to get into social housing on the Downtown Eastside. A few years ago, Crowe worked for the Carnegie Street workers; I remember seeing him slumped over in Pigeon Park on drugs during that period. That was the period when street workers were involved in an illegal scam to silence a victim of alleged (but well supported by documentation) political psychiatry by psych nurse Don Getz. The person's medical confidentiality was breached, a description of this person was passed around amongst street workers and street nurses for no apparent reason than to expedite harassment of them on the street. The victim reports no harassment by Earle Crowe though. He appears to have been otherwise occupied.
Before spectators and speakers left the basement, drummer Gail Bowen -- Burton Cummings learned to play harmonica on her veranda in Winnipeg -- performed a "peace prayer". But first she reminded the crowd that she agreed with Robertson, that this is "unceded Coast Salish territory".
Above photo: Judy Graves, a publicly-funded advocate who walks the streets and approaches the homeless to help them get welfare and a place to stay.
Although much of the opening ceremony took place in the basement of the Pennsylvania, the final leg took place outside on the corner of Hastings & Carroll St. A switch was flicked in front of the crowd, turning on the neon "Pennsylvania Hotel" sign. Actually, this sign has been turned on for over a month now but it was turned off earlier today so that it could be ceremonially turned on again at the opening. A low income guy watching commented loudly that the sign had cost a fortune. "For the cost of that sign," he said, "they could have built more social housing."
I like the sign. I like seeing it shining at night in the neighborhood. But with povertarians claiming to be improving the lives of Downtown Eastsiders while ignoring the epidemic of human rights abuses that they or their allies are inflicting, it will take more than a neon sign to light up the darkness.
[Thanks to the Downtown Eastsider who took photos and emailed them to us.]