By: Keeley Aliya

Talking to Omar, a resident of the Downtown Eastside, during the Sunday handout on October 14th was strikingly enlightening. His view on the world was practical and realistic, and he graciously provided me with an outlook on the situation of those living in the Downtown Eastside through an emotional context. Walking away from our conversation, my understanding of the Downtown Eastside was broadened, while all my preconceptions were shattered.

He began by referring to the spiral. You start by using once, and nobody thinks much of it; the top of the spiral. The more you use, the more your connections with family, friends and, ultimately the community, begins to crumble and drift away as you keep spiralling downwards, fueled by the gravity of addiction. Eventually, your community will push you away altogether, smoothly cutting all ties with you when the lying and stealing become too much. Kicked out of your home with no one to turn to, you find yourself mixed up in the Downtown Eastside: this is what Omar called the ‘last stop’.

Left to Right: Jayden Leong, (Author) Keeley Aliya, and Omar

The ‘last stop’ is a place of definitive decision. You can either keep spiralling downwards, gaining no control over yourself, or you can seek out resources to help better yourself. That is where volunteers, like those that make up Bumpin’ Bakery, come in: they provide encouragement to those trying to find a way back up the spiral, giving them direction and assistance in gaining a foothold where they can start their journey to a better, brighter life. Volunteers rekindle the hope in those who are mentally stuck in desperate straits, making them realize that ending up in the Downtown Eastside does not need to mean the end.

The lying and stealing slowly lessen, as those wanting a future they can be proud of start to rebuild their community of connections. Climbing back up the spiral is not easy; there will be rejection, setbacks and scraped knuckles. Omar said it is our responsibility as a community to support these people’s efforts, stating that everything we have and who we are, “we owe it to others”. The amount of people who influenced your own life, made you the individual inseparable from your name, did it for no benefit other than your well-being. It is time to pass on everything you gained from them, by recognizing those who need help and taking time out of your day to give back what you owe to others.

Omar said losing our reliance on name-brand material items and other things of such nature is the first step in giving back. It is not the Nike shoes and the Adidas hoodies that bring happiness; it is being able to form a genuine connection with every kind of person and improving the lives of everyone you meet, no matter how minutely, which brings true joy. Humbling oneself from the material and opening yourself up to learn about a different kind of life, the life of those living in the Downtown Eastside, is the best way to rid yourself of preconceptions and stereotypes. Gaining perspectives from residents with a fresh, unbiased mind is the first, and one of the most important steps, in giving back.

Omar is heavily involved in the affairs of the DTES community. Here, he is assisting Bumpin Bakery during their lunch in November 2018, at The Door is Open.

It was at this point Omar pointed down the street and observed the new, industrial buildings bleeding into the Downtown Eastside, the city slowly gaining on these residents from every side. He said the area they could live in was shrinking, a bittersweet feeling knowing poverty won’t be as prevalent in the Downtown Eastside once it’s overrun by renovations and upgrades, but all the homeless currently living there will be displaced with no one area to call home. He noted that people are traditionally afraid of those from the Downtown Eastside, this notion contrived from passed-down stories and glancing observations. Once the Downtown Eastside as we know it is erased, who will accept all its residents?

This is why it is now more important than ever to change our stereotypes regarding the Downtown Eastside, and start seeing each individual resident like any other person who merely fell during their path of life and need a helping hand to get back up. Omar recognizes that people are the most important thing in anyone’s life, and wants everybody, whether well-off or just starting to climb up the spiral, to try and connect with everyone they can from any walk of life. Don’t get swept up by the persuasion of empty material goods; look into the eyes of another with intent to pass on everything those dearest to your heart gave you.

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