The recent municipal election brings new faces of city governance, with ABC Vancouver sweeping Mayor, Councillors, Park Board commissioners, and School Trustees. We congratulate all candidates who ran for their hard work and well-fought campaigns, and for their commitment to engaging the public in important decision-making about our city.

The stolen land that Vancouver is built on has been cared for by and belongs to the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations for thousands of years. As an organization that’s older—in a colonial definitionthan Vancouver itself we have deep ties to the city and the people who live here. Over our nearly 140-year history, we have provided support to hundreds of thousands of residents. We care deeply about the leadership and vision for this place we call home, and particularly so for those in our immediate community of the Downtown Eastside. We write to address the incoming Council on its engagement with critical issues of health and safety in our community.

To the new municipal government: welcome. We hope you’ll do everything in your power to serve and meet the needs of our most marginalized neighbours. We hope you will see them as residents who are just as important, valuable, and in need of brave leadership as constituents in other postal codes. In making decisions, we hope you will listen to the expertise of those who have lived and worked in this community for decades, and we hope that you will refuse the influence of those whose actions perpetuate cycles of poverty and oppression.

We have reviewed your platform and it is obvious that you care about the city. If you are truly committed to creating a city where “everyone is welcome” and where “residents feel safe to walk down the street” it would be a grave mistake not to consider the safety, inclusion, and welfare of those who are marginalized and live in poverty.  The safety and wellbeing of DTES residents themselves is a critical part of ensuring community safety. If the DTES community is not deliberately and thoughtfully considered in decision-making in a way that prioritizes their safety and wellbeing, you will undermine your goal of community safety for all.

A key pillar of ABC Vancouver’s campaign platform was the recruitment of 100 new police officers and 100 mental health nurses. We agree that there is a desperate need for more mental health supports for those we serve, yet we are curious how this model will effectively be implemented considering an ongoing nurse shortage and the health authority’s jurisdiction.  

We are concerned about the impact of the second part of this campaign promise: the recruitment of 100 new police officers. The Downtown Eastside does not need more policing. Increased police presence will not address the root causes of poverty or crime. It will not solve marginalization. It will not solve mental health or addiction. None of the issues that residents of the Downtown Eastside face can be solved by more policing. Policing has been shown time and time again to only perpetuate the criminalization of poverty, and violence against marginalized communities. Expanding emergency response in the community would benefit residents, particularly if that expanded response included professionals and experts outside of law enforcement. We implore you to consider whose safety you are prioritizing when you describe your vision of “residents who feel safe to walk down the street”—does that include those we serve?

FIRST UNITED is a front-line service provider in the heart of the DTES. In addition to providing direct support to community members, we also believe in advocacy that can create systemic change. What we’ve learned over the past 100+ years is that we must listen to and follow direction of community first. As an organization here to serve—much like elected officials are too—if we are not listening, then we are failing.

We encourage you to listen to those with lived and living experience and who are part of this community before you take office and make choices. Talk to residents (and, yes, that includes unhoused residents). Talk to grassroots organizers. Talk to service providers. Talk to those who will be most directly impacted by your choices as they relate to policing, mental health, affordable housing, drug policy, reconciliation, and poverty reduction and privilege their voices. Never forget that a better city is one where everyone is welcome.