Photo: Ellen Woodsworth (left) speaks at Carnegie Center during civic election campaign in Nov. 2008
I was at the Pacific Hotel having a beer with a friend this evening and some Downtown Eastsiders were looking at the Courier newspaper and laughing at the latest from Ellen Woodsworth, a COPE City councilor.
Woodsworth told the Courier that she had spoken out against City staff's plan to cut $200,000 from the budget of the Gathering Place, a drop-in center on Granville St. modelled on Carnegie but catering to a younger crowd. Woodsworth said she opposed City staff's original plan to cut staff right across the Board; she believes that some communities can absorb staff cuts easier than others. "But not filling a vacancy at the Gathering Place or at Carnegie [Center] means a loss of help for people with addictions or with mental health problems," Woodsworth said. "Those services are already in crisis and they'll be impacted even more. Then people will be on the street and calling out in ways other people find difficult to understand."
We're not wolves, Ellen.
Don't be fooled by the "mental health" mantra. The constant portrayal of members of Carnegie as having "mental health problems" is a means of attracting funding. The majority of people who use Carnegie Center do not need mental health intervention. People drop in to Carnegie to buy a coffee or a cheap meal, read a free newspaper, use the much-in-demand public-access computers, or participate in the music program. Exactly what happens when funding for Carnegie services does not reach Downtown Eastsiders has already been determined: for years on welfare day and the week following welfare day, staff would drastically cut back services (until the DTES Enquirer relentlessly exposed this rip-off) and Carnegie members did not end up "on the street and calling out in ways other people find difficult to understand."
Rather than the loss of a staff position at Carnegie meaning a "loss of help for people with addictions or with mental health problems", as Woodsworth claims, a person active in their addiction or acting like a real nut case is unlikely to even be allowed through the doors of the Carnegie Community Center by security guards who stand at the front -- and Woodsworth knows that as she used to work next door.
Poor does not mean crazy. Yet I rarely hear a povertarian talk about the poor on the Downtown Eastside without repeating the "mental health" and "addictions" mantra. The late activist turned City Councilor, Bruce Erikson, initiated a largely successful effort to discourage the media from repeating the "skid row" stereotype of the Downtown Eastside. It's time media like the Courier stop uncritically repeating the "mental health" mantra which Downtown Eastsiders are left to live down as cash-addicted povertarians drive home to their own neighborhoods.