The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Canada needs more independent media. And independent media needs you.

Did you know that most news organizations in Canada are owned by just a handful of companies? And that these companies have been shutting down newsrooms and laying off reporters continually over the past few decades?

Fact-based, credible journalism is essential to our democracy. Unlike many other newsrooms across the country, The Tyee’s independent newsroom is stable and growing.

How are we able to do this? The Tyee Builder program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip into our editorial budget so that we can keep doing what we do best: fact-based, in-depth reporting on issues that matter to our readers. No paywall. No junk. Just good journalism.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to be Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Culture
  |  
Health
  |  
Rights + Justice
  |  
Municipal Politics

In Photos: Life in the Downtown Eastside During COVID-19

Sarah Blyth captures her days at the Overdose Prevention Society during two crises: soaring overdoses and the pandemic.

Sarah Blyth 22 Oct 2020 | TheTyee.ca

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.

851px version of DTESSueOulette.jpg
Sue Oulette was one of the first volunteers who worked at the Overdose Prevention Site when it was just a tent in an alley in 2016. She makes home-cooked food in her apartment and brings it to the site to nourish people at work. Oulette makes everything from crepes to mini burgers, cupcakes, French toast and spaghetti — and it’s an important way to care for people who often have no way to cook in their tiny single-room occupancy hotel rooms.
851px version of DTESPaigeBearSprayOPSStaff.jpg
Paige gets help from OPS staff after being attacked with bear spray, a common occurrence for women in the Downtown Eastside. 'Paige wanted us to use this photo to help other people,' Blyth said. 'She wants this to end for women, because it’s a really terrible experience.'
DTESPigeonParkSavingsLineup.jpg
Downtown Eastside residents line up to wait to get into Pigeon Park Savings in late March, shortly after COVID-19 restrictions came into effect. COVID-19 restrictions had a devastating effect on the neighbourhood: closed borders made the drug supply more unpredictable and more deadly, while restrictions on visitors in many SRO buildings and the closure of some drop-in spaces made more people homeless.
582px version of DTESNadjaThemens.jpg
Nadja Themens gets ready for a day of work at the outdoor inhalation site at the Overdose Prevention Society, organizing everything she needs for a full day of saving lives and keeping spirits up. Themens is particularly skilled at diffusing conflicts. 'If anyone has any issues, she gets involved and tries to resolve them,' Blyth says.
851px version of DTESMathewSchimpky.jpg
Mathew Schimpky volunteers at the Overdose Prevention Site, often going up and down the street cleaning the sidewalk. In this photo, Schimpky looks after a woman’s dog. 'It goes to show people are willing to lend a hand,' Blyth said. 'It’s another face of a hardworking person who helps people and does his part in the community.'
851px version of DTESKenFosterHands.jpg
Ken Foster can often be seen selling his paintings on East Hastings Street. Every time Blyth sees Foster, his hands are covered in different layers of paint, a reflection of his work and the many paintings he creates. Foster often paints the alleys of the Downtown Eastside, or other scenes from the neighbourhood.
582px version of DTESDonDurban.jpg
Don Durban is an Elder of the Downtown Eastside who often leads staff meetings with a land acknowledgement, stating that the Overdose Prevention Society is located on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish people. Here, in the middle of a workday, Durban wears full protective gear to protect himself from COVID-19. Health officials say Canada is in the midst of two health crises: COVID-19, and an increase in overdose deaths.

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities

Do:

  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Do You Think the Injunction at Fairy Creek Will Be Reinstated?

Take this week's poll