Category Archives: poverty

it doesn’t have to be this way

the updated phrase
HarmReduction is about meeting people where they’re at,
but not leaving them there
is key to understanding what has happened in #DTES, wide-frame. the stakes are high. this is the history we must awaken from if we want a future. because not only are lots of things much more harmful –down here everything is so messed up (this is the capital of fucktup canada) — we’re an industry leader in inventing new ways to harm as every day we are all a little poorer and more desperate, more harmed and harming.

but NOT leaving us here

This is a clip from “Frontline Fentanyl” in which Huey Lampkin of Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users explains the economics of fentanyl. This is the clearest explanation you will ever hear of this, and it is a brilliant analysis, and really important to watch. The full documentary is here:

this is about inequality of possibility. the distance between us – in for example, the Woodwards building, emblematic of everything ever in this tiny world – between the resident of the condo building and us in supportive housing – is a distance that capitalism measures in dollars, and therefore in value. it is an unfathomable distance, a gap that that can only be crossed by a miracle like celebrity, lottery, sports stardom, or the production and sale of synthetic narcotics. but not everyone is cut out to be a pharmacist, and the slightest error or lack of care results in death. but to the best of your knowledge, this is the only means of generating wealth known to you — because criminalization and poverty and the stigma have slammed shut many doors.

In fact, the only work option

available to you is ‘dealing‘ drugs

(what with your record)

and so, hundreds are dead here. this is the world that we all have created. synthetic painkillers have more than decimated this population. this was all done out of desperation.

this is the situation in the downtown eastside.


we are all getting bunked

in this terrifying vancouver election, i’m not terribly interested in any given candidate’s claim to be Left or Right: i’m much more concerned about how they understand power, if they are self-confident enough to take an immense amount of shit (and not it personally), if they are curious and ask questions because they want to understand, rather than want to show that everyone else doesn’t. so when i tweeted about getting bunked in the legal marketplace and not knowing what to do about it, Candidate Brandon Yan asked what “bunked” means.

“when the retailer misrepresents the product, or it is a smaller amount than purchased, or it is not product at all,” i wrote.

getting bunked several years ago would piss people off. it would happen particularly often on the weekend before cheque day. this is a low-income area and people get desperate. but a seller who rips off their customers isn’t going to be in business very long. wait, it’s only 10 bucks, you say. true. but people have to do things that perhaps they otherwise would not have in order to earn that ten. and then to go home, and open a flap of crushed chalk? if you don’t know what that’s like, i don’t want you to.

of course in 2018 you wouldn’t have time to get pissed off – if you were opiate-naive you’d be dead before this sentence ended. and the street retailer has no idea what they have in inventory (other than that “it’s really good”).

for some 25 years, the phrase “open-air drug market” has been used to describe my neighbourhood, the downtown eastside. apparently the objectionable thing about this is that it’s “open,” visible for anyone to see – thus an offense to tourism, business, the children, and decent people everywhere. therefore it is an affront to the Law, and is also known as Street Disorder

its visibility could have been considered one of its safer characteristics. “you only bunk once” it was said. you would be instantly called out, and encouraged to cease your participation in the marketplace – since now your action is widely known, you’ve undermined trust in all other retailers. it would be unwise to attempt to sell in the neighbourhood again. the fact that you tried to bunk us would never be forgotten.

that was a collectively self-regulated illicit market. there’s no customer service desk, no receipts. debts were paid and collected. there was coercion, violence.

meanwhile, in the world off the block, as the cost of everything exploded, the incomes of poor people were unchanged – which is to say, decreased. revenues fell in every market but the property market – and while the cost of illicit drugs isn’t factored into the cost of living by policy analysts and economists, it should be, because demand is steady. and it doesn’t matter where they were first produced – you can synthesize these chemicals anywhere, and it’s much cheaper (and more profitable) to produce and sell synthetics like fentanyl or whatever the next thing will be than it is to import all that bulky plant-based dope. customers had less money, and that money had to do more work. thus it’s poverty that explains the impact of synthetic opiates, explains precisely why thousands of deaths don’t mean a thing.

the illicit drug market is capitalism unregulated, revealed as an unending nightmare, in its purest and therefore most brutal form. this is the war of all against all, but we’re cannon fodder, ritual sacrifices and with our technology we can make synthetic substances in small undetectable quantities in the laundry room and yeah you will get high —

then everybody started dying

the collective self-regulation of the market? yeah, that fell apart quick. nobody knew for certain what happened to you know, that guy – or her, she was here the other day. where did she buy? no one knew. and drug users generally speaking already had some trust issues.

but now we have no trust in anything, or anyone, and if it’s even fathomable, are more isolated from each other than when this began. the hopelessness, like a wave, the undertow. we cannot trust each other again.

but then what? the use of psychotropic substances is a constant in human history. and there is less potential for harm in societies that are less harmful.

so… this all will be re-built, either illicit, improvised, awaiting the next crisis, or as an externally regulated market. either/or.

it’s not like we can remove the profit motive and transform social relations by rejecting capitalism through the free exchange of substances that relieve pain and produce pleasure

it’s not like we can do that

users are only ever interested in getting high

the solution isn’t to ‘reduce poverty’ or ‘tax the rich.’ the well is poisoned. the solution isn’t to beat them at their own game. the solution is to Change the Game.

that is what we have to do. no one is going to do it for us. there is no Them to demand that from. just us.

No. Staggering Income Assistance Cheques Will Not Reduce Overdose Risk

(unless when you get payments is up to you)

Staggered cheque days will merely produce staggered emergencies. It is a supply-side, managerial-technocrat band-aid that doesn’t even purport to address the actual problem. Seriously this would put people in danger AND be a scandalous waste of money.

The problem is that by the time cheque day rolls around, people are DESPERATE. and have been for more than a couple days. More than a week, or often two — basic assistance (aka welfare) is $710 BEFORE rent – it is normal and unremarkable for people to exist in a survival mode that is incomprehensible to regular-type people. This is not a scheduling issue.

The Problem is Poverty.

Shifting cheque days around just makes the harms caused by poverty easier to manage — for health professionals and system designers and “service providers”. We continue, impoverished, to die (from the systemic injustice, ), but at more convenient times.

Cheque days are ruinous Because of the poverty. after weeks of desperation, of having to do *what one does* to survive, to not be sick, to feel a little bit ok, you finally get your cheque. What, are you going to come up with a budget so your 300$ lasts 32 days? (There is no such budget, btw.)

No, you go see your guy to pick up, right away, because you crave oblivion and to feel that feeling and not think about things today. Right now you don’t care what it is you just bought. I hear buddy said it was good—-

we must end cheque day but not like that.

Decent, guaranteed basic incomes, personal & collective agency to make meaningful choices about the direction of one’s life, secure and dignified housing, safe access to regulated substances without criminal or social sanction, and a politics rooted in Justice, Respect, Love—

This is about freedom, the freedom to be human and be fully human to each other, to practice harm reduction as a conscious constant questioning, to expand the concept of harm — we can start by acknowledging our own pain, trauma, fear — and when we see this pain in other people, we can acknowledge that reality too, and refuse to look away or seek to make that pain and all these people (like me) into a flatter line on a graph, into a data point not a human person in this world, easier for managers to manage, more convenient for coroners to count.


A response to an opinion piece published in the Vancouver Sun, June 19 2018, “Lindsay Richardson: Can Staggering Income Assistance Cheques Reduce Overdose Risk?