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You were able to read this article without hitting a paywall because thousands of readers support our publication. We call them Tyee Builders. These fantastic people chip in so we can pay our talented journalists and keep the news freely accessible to everyone.
The Tyee is a Canadian reader-funded news organization. We track every dollar carefully, and the vast majority of our revenue goes towards paying for in-depth journalism that you won’t read anywhere else.
We believe that our region needs and deserves quality, investigative journalism that gets to the heart of what matters. Please consider joining us today if you share that belief and want to help us keep publishing our stories.
Sarah Blyth is a frontline worker in the Downtown Eastside and a founding member of the Overdose Prevention Society.
These images were taken during phase one of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown on what is known as “zero block” located between Carrall and Abbott on East Hastings Street. It’s the heart of the Downtown Eastside.
At a time where we have been instructed by all levels of government to stay apart from one another, little to no option for social distancing exists for people facing poverty and homelessness. In these streets, it’s almost impossible to adhere to the rules.
This situation has exposed a systematic failure. People living on the fringes are constantly at risk and lack health-care access. They can’t afford supplies for weeks at a time, let alone days or even one day. That is a privilege.
People of the Downtown Eastside have a certain kind of strength, not always what they asked for, but it helps in times of crisis. COVID-19 is not the hardest thing people have gone through in this neighbourhood — it is probably in the bottom five of their immediate concerns. Things like housing, food, money, mental health and the overdose crisis that continues to kill people are top of mind.
Because of COVID-19, many groups and government agencies are finally coming together. Meals are being distributed, and more decent-paying jobs for local DTES residents have manifested. Finally, things like safe supply have been approved. It is taking time to roll out, but it’s nothing short of a miracle.
It takes a certain type of individual to work on the frontlines right now, knowing that social distancing is next to impossible, but we try in a place where hugs are what so many need. The ones fighting on the frontlines have shown incredible courage in the face of two crises killing simultaneously.
Below are my photos, with short interviews about them by Jen St. Denis.
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