I Killed Some Time Researching How Bad A Few Blocks of Yaletown Are

There's a cluster of services for the poor found at the corner of Seymour and Helmcken, downtown Vancouver. A cost-limited retirement home on one corner; an "community service centre", providing help, showers, library, space for the poor, called "The Gathering Place", on another, and on a third corner, AIDS Vancouver. Recently, that's also become an "overdose prevention" site, adding a number of drug users to the street life, and a lawsuit claims they've greatly harmed the street, the park beside the senior's residence.

Oh, the newspaper comment-writers agreed, the place was a hellhole. More than one said there were incidents, one said he'd been mugged. I'd been through the area, stopped to enjoy the park, and it all sounded exaggerated to me. I decided to just hang around for an afternoon, and take pictures of anything happening, for some hours - data gathering.

It was quite boring, but that's science for you.

Street Life Near Emery Barnes Park, June 29-30, 2023

These are all quarter-size photos, to reduce the load on the web page down to 8MB. My server can handle another 28MB, so if you click on any one quarter-size, you'll see the half-size, be able to make out more detail.

The main point of them all is to document how little is happening around there, most of the time.

The address (if not name) for the gentleman who gave me his well-informed ideas about the real extent of the problems, and his suggested solutions, is available, to journalists.

To Begin at the End, Returning Home

I'll put my own comments at the top here, so that they get read. Just jump down a page to go right to the data-log for the Emery Barnes Park area.

On my way home, I stopped at two places that put Yaletown into context, and then at a place right near my house, for context with the very West End.

2023/6/29 15:53 PST

This is St. Paul's Hospital, soon to be closed, as such. It's four blocks away from the Yaletown site, a few minutes' walk. The most-knowledgeable local resident (see below) pointed to it as an obvious location to turn into a mental health and addiction services facility, partially undoing the "de-institutionalization" of the mentally ill that dates back to Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney in the 1980s.

2023/6/30 08:18 PST

This is a church I passed on the way home - my watch said, a 15 minute walk from the area. I paused to remember when churches might be looked-to as a source of comfort for the poor and sick.

I can recall an awful lot of people complaining that government is responsible when the poor and their problems trouble the rest of us, none that the church has recently fallen down on the ancient job it used to have.

2023/6/30 08:39 PST

This is the Community Garden near my place, touching the tennis courts along Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. The most-desirable of neighbourhoods, the gardeners still have to contend with human waste deposited there overnight, on occasion. The hose-bib there must be marked "non-potable" because the tap might be contaminated.

2023/6/30 08:40 PST

The human waste left for us is a real testament to how mentally-challenged some people are, because this 7x24 public washroom is only about 12 steps away, on the other side of the tennis courts. It's kept pretty clean, street people use it, and so do I, at the end of a jog. If Emery Barnes Park had one, there would still be some chance of encountering human waste nearby, as we West Enders do; but I bet there would be far, far less.

The comments from a guy who lives across the street

...in lieu of identifying images. He'd been watching it happen closely, spoke from a place of sympathy. Best comments you'll get, I think:
Image 20230629142713_IMG_7907.JPG Redacted

These two images have been redacted as they show the address, and the highly-distinctive (wonderful, loveable) dog of a nearby resident.

This gentleman was generous with his time and knowledge, which was extensive. No NIMBY here, the man had volunteered at organizations like the ones he lives across the street from, and has every sympathy for their clients. He was on no moral high-horse, just talking problems to solve: impositions upon the neighbourhood that should be addressed, and can be solved without kicking them all out.

Briefly, here are the impositions:

  • Overnight camping - tents have been set up in the parks
  • "Street camping" - where pedestrians are blocked by people taking up sidewalk with tent-like structures
  • Syringes - found in the dog park, in doorways
  • Public Mental Illness - loud "whoopers" or swearers
  • Sanitation - quite a lot of urine has been washed away, mornings; solid wastes have been found.
  • Loitering - a seniors apartment is right beside the community centre, and groups waiting for it to open, make the seniors uncomfortable passing through.
2023/6/29 14:27 PST

Over here, these are the ideas we talked about for solutions. This is very much my summary, but I can say he didn't think the new centre has to go.

  • Camping: "Sweeping" the park and street tents setups is a job, one that could apply anywhere in Vancouver. It has to be done here, the "park is closed at nights". It's a kid's playground park. And it is getting done now, that I could see. There was no camping that night. The "sweeping" of many places will have to continue until we get a better solution for homelessness. Homelessness is not the fault of the service centres.
  • Public Mental Illness Since we have "whoopers" and "F***-screamers" going past our very West-End location, (possibly the same guys), we need mental health care to benefit every neighbourhood, also a bigger issue than Emery Barnes Park.
  • Syringes Sweeping these from the dog park, the sidewalk corners and alleys, strikes me as a job that goes with running these centres. They have staff. Or another service could do daily, or more, sweeps of blocks nearby them.
Image 20230629153818_IMG_7925.JPG Redacted

Here, I'd like to mention the larger, structural solutions that the gentleman with the gentledog offered me from his front stoop:

Move the Entrance
Clients pile up in front of the entrance, which is right on the corner. There's generous space for a few, but it's not enough, so they start impeding traffic and aggravating the residents. Moving the entrance to the alley, is all that he thinks necessary, having worked in these kinds of places. It would be tricky (see below).

Take Over St. Paul's Hospital
As noted above. It's a huge hospital, a fraction of it could provide all these services, away from these residences, just a way better location. Four blocks away.

2023/6/29 15:38 PST

"Prasad's Law": public health can always find money to concentrate money, spend capital, to buy a building or an MRI machine, but struggles to spend operating money - distribute money to people, like hiring nurses.

I did not see a whole full-time job policing this area, in either the "crime" sense of "policing" or the "tidy up" sense. Not even a 5 days for 8 hours job, much less 7x24.

If this centre is close to being forced out, the promise that they'd spend as much time cleaning up to a half-block away, as they do their own sidewalk area (see below), would address most of the needle and sanitation problems.

June 29, 2023, 1:30-4:50

NB: All times shown are PST (never changed my camera), Daylight Time is One Hour Later

2023/6/29 12:31 PST

Approaching the corner of Helmcken and Seymour, where the two services are across Helmcken from each other, and the Park across Seymour from both - southbound on Seymour. A sleeping person in the shadows at right. He slept there the whole three hours.

2023/6/29 12:32 PST

Looking across Seymour at the corner with the AIDS centre, and The Gathering Place community centre, across Helmcken from that, behind the white vehicle. Pretty quiet.

2023/6/29 12:33 PST

Emery Barnes Park, the third corner, right behind me as I took the previous shot. Also very quiet at 1:30PM.

2023/6/29 12:35 PST The far side of the park, on the east, has a nice water feature running from watefall to fountain, very popular with kids and parents.
2023/6/29 12:38 PST

By far the most-business for Emery Barnes is children. A third of the adults have strollers. The playground was the only thing in the area busy all afternoon, and the next morning.

2023/6/29 12:41 PST

Back across Seymour, this guy sat for about two hours, right in front of the entrance to the building that is suing the Centre. He was fussing with clothing, and with his injuries - large bandages on both legs.

2023/6/29 12:45 PST

This is looking along Seymour to the north, back the way I came, the sleeping guy right behind me. Empty, mostly.

2023/6/29 12:54 PST

Looking west up Helmcken, towards St. Paul's, the whole corner and street occupations in view.

2023/6/29 12:56 PST

Back to the park, still quiet, suntanners.

2023/6/29 12:57 PST

The fountain end of the water feature shows the "Park closed" sign, making police sweeps completely legit.

2023/6/29 13:04 PST

At the other end of the block from the AIDS Centre on Seymour, is the nicest coffee shop I've been in, lately. The barista had just two complaints. There have been a few annoying people come into the place in the morning, looking for a bathroom or handouts, and some tents in the park became a problem at one point. That was about it. He shrugged.

2023/6/29 13:06 PST

People moved, and did other business, while the guy on the sidewalk continued to fuss with his injuries and his sneakers.

2023/6/29 13:13 PST The Gathering Place entrance, not busy.
2023/6/29 13:14 PST

This is the alley behind The Gathering Place, and there was definite drug use in progress, but they really kept to themselves.

2023/6/29 13:14 PST

This shot is the length of Helmcken between the last two, the alley entrance on my left, the front entrance to the Gathering Place at the end of the block ahead. On the right, four tables set up, where small groups, or individuals who studiously ignore each other, set up to eat food, smoke from bongs, and for the nearest table, partially tent it over.

2023/6/29 13:14 PST

Rotating another 90 degrees to my right, the alley gang are now at my back, the picnic tables to the left, and this is the view down the alley where the neighbour wishes the AIDS centre would move its entrance. Again, a few alley people, no doubt doing drugs.

2023/6/29 13:15 PST

Seymour entrance quiet save a couple of guys in wheelchairs.

2023/6/29 13:24 PST

The water feature on the east of the park again, often more busy.

2023/6/29 13:25 PST

Playground seen from the east edge.

2023/6/29 13:26 PST

Looking north from the southwest. The big open space is where kids run around with the (leashed) dogs.

2023/6/29 13:30 PST

Taken from the alley where the local wishes the AIDS entrance could be, the drug session in the alley across continues.

2023/6/29 13:43 PST

Both centres' entrances in sight

2023/6/29 13:47 PST

I got a seat at one of those picnic tables, it was so quiet. I witnessed some unpleasantness: the retreating man with the expensive-looking backpack hurled many swear words at the old guy pushing along a trash barrel with a hose coming out of it. Not sure what either that, or the swearing, was about. The old guy did not reply to the nastiness.

2023/6/29 13:53 PST Back to the park to find some action, the kids were having a ball on the play equipment.
2023/6/29 13:53 PST

This was the best bit, the whole three hours. Two kids started running up and down the water feature, splashing, and a third toddler joined in.

2023/6/29 13:54 PST

A proud grandpa gave me a smile as I snapped all three. All the readers, and the two card-players (that's the two ladies facing each other across a table at far right) were all laughing and smiling at them. I was falling in love with Emery Barnes Park.

I should mention the super-brief "interview" I had with one mom. She'd never had a problem in the park, not her toddler, personally. She's seen a few people two avoid, two people doing drugs in the park one morning. A colleague of hers, who lives in a nearby building, had mentioned hating the people sometimes loitering outside its entrance in the morning.

2023/6/29 14:09 PST

Back to the street, guy still fiddling with bandages.

2023/6/29 14:10 PST

More than an hour in, now, and back to the main area, the intersection where you can see both entrances. Still quiet.

2023/6/29 14:15 PST

As mentioned, residential people flow in and out the whole time. I took this shot of these kids, not because they are street people, but because I didn't know that afforable cars had those (stupid) "gull-wing" doors, which I admit look cool. These kids are going into the building that is suing, ignoring the street-guy and his bandages just behind me.

2023/6/29 14:25 PST

At far left, a fire hydrant powers a drinking fountain and hand-washing station, which gets use. Picnic table still available.

2023/6/29 14:48 PST

A few people finally started lounging about the AIDS centre entrance, as apparently becomes too much at some times. Not now.

2023/6/29 14:51 PST

The park got busier as 4PM approached, nearly every bench in use. Never saw a park so well-used as this one before.

2023/6/29 14:52 PST

This is the off-leash part of the park, which got busy at times, mostly tomorrow morning. This is where some needles have been found, offering great concern about dogs stepping on them or trying to eat them.

2023/6/29 15:00 PST

My best shot of where the nice neighbour said the entrance should be, in the back alley, get people away from Seymour and its residents.

Tricky, because you can see that this is where the architect put a big building vent, and the loading dock. Changing those into an entrance is a tall order. Not impossible, I just think person-hours are cheaper.

2023/6/29 15:02 PST This, by the way, is Granville, two blocks up, also an area that most would hesitate to stroll at 3AM. The problem in Yaletown, in a way, is that nice places have gentrified an old, formerly-poor area.
2023/6/29 15:04 PST

The back alley had a couple of little groups in it.

2023/6/29 15:04 PST

This second group, basically behind the building suing, had encamped a little bit. Look close, somebody is sleeping, sitting up, but bent way over, at right.

2023/6/29 15:08 PST

In the park, around the other side of the building and across a street, nothing but kids and dogs. It's remarkable how the two worlds overlap each other, like pages in a book.

2023/6/29 15:09 PST

Over on the east side of the park, I think at least two of the three sleeping in the sun are poor. Certainly the nearest one. The young guy in the ballcap, I think was just local, and nodded off in the warmth. They were all gone by the time I left, 45 minutes later. Just napping.

2023/6/29 15:12 PST

Some napping on the sidewalks, too. Fentanyl-powered naps, perhaps.

2023/6/29 15:12 PST

This is the BACK entrance of the building suing. Oddly enough, they have the idea of a back entrance down pat, whereas the AIDS centre doesn't.

2023/6/29 15:20 PST
2023/6/29 15:20 PST

I grabbed a last coffee, just a few shots to show what a nice place it is. You have to buy to use the washroom, $4 giving me a privilege the street people cannot afford.

2023/6/29 15:36 PST

I didn't use the privilege the next morning, and barely made it home, giving me some sympathy for that part of their plight.

2023/6/29 15:38 PST

This is the entrance to that "seniors residence", next door to The Gathering Place, and site of, apparently, many a urine-washing.

2023/6/29 15:41 PST

Shadow and poor photography don't show the guy sleeping on the bench; but sitting up, and I don't know if he was just a non-homeless napper.

2023/6/29 15:45 PST

Goodbye for today, with another wistful look at where the entrance should be.

June 30, 2023, 8:00AM-9:00AM PST

Camera set to standard time, one hour earlier than daylight

2023/6/30 07:01 PST

I started off the next morning, with the same approach. The guy who slept here all 3 hours yesterday was gone. Another guy was sleeping there instead, with the wheelchair beside him for added pathos.

2023/6/30 07:01 PST

The picnic tables were all in use, The Gathering Place still closed (it opened before nine, though, somewhere near 8:40 PDT)

2023/6/30 07:01 PST

I'd come in the morning because both the neighbour and the park lady, AND the barista, were emphatic that all was worst in the mornings. Maybe 8AM was too late to catch the very worst hanging-about, though I'd think that worst just before the services opened.

2023/6/30 07:02 PST

But all was still very quiet, around the AIDS centre. It doesn't open until 11AM, it says, so I'm not sure what people would be doing at 6AM.

2023/6/30 07:03 PST

All well at the nice coffee shop, end of block.

2023/6/30 07:05 PST

The park, however, was simply bustling with dogs. I counted 10 in the main park area, socializing, as were their owners.

2023/6/30 07:05 PST

The off-leash had four more.

2023/6/30 07:06 PST

I'd encountered solid waste at last: dog-based, one owner was a scofflaw. Well, I suppose it could have been human. (foreground). It was gone half an hour later; Yaletown has some good citizens.

2023/6/30 07:20 PST

This shot and next confirm something about Emery Barnes park: the dog owners synchronize. They all show up around the same time - 8AM sharp - because dogs just love that.

2023/6/30 07:20 PST

But by 7:20, the dogs were gone! Synchronized. I've seen the same behaviour at many parks popular with dogs, including the one in front of my house for 30 years, back in Calgary. They'd text each other when they were leaving home.

2023/6/30 07:21 PST

I didn't have a picture of it, yesterday, but the guy with the bandages, after a couple of hours, had his legs and clothes all good at last, picked himself up and walked off with his pack. Not back in the morning.

2023/6/30 07:22 PST

The intersection was very quiet, is all I can say.

2023/6/30 07:23 PST

A slowly-growing group waited for The Gathering Place to open, not large enough to be any problem for anybody.

2023/6/30 07:24 PST

There were people sitting and swaddling and sleeping at the picnic tables, but I couldn't call it camping.

The gent walking away from the camera displays a common feature of this area: mobility challenges. That great prosthetic gave him an almost-normal gait, but there were three wheelchairs in use among the small groups against the two building sides.

2023/6/30 07:26 PST

At left, commerce in progress. The people up against the AIDS centre were no impediment to the large tourist bus that pulled up and took in a crowd from the nearby hotel behind me. The sidewalk is very wide because the building is set back from other buildings.

2023/6/30 07:27 PST
2023/6/30 07:30 PST
2023/6/30 07:41 PST
2023/6/30 07:42 PST

Guy is out to walk his dog, which has an offleash area to romp in. Instead, the dog sits patiently besides him as he gets lost in his phone. This is the drama level I was down to.

2023/6/30 07:44 PST

Finally, The Gathering Place opens about 8:45, these people all go inside for whatever services, and the sleeping guy wakes up beside his wheelchair to start whatever day you have in that situation.

2023/6/30 07:53 PST

There's no building, about half-way north on Seymour, away from the disputed area. You can go right into the alley, which is where the little group was, the day before. Two workmen put on their vests, as the group sits in the sun. They didn't seem to be actually doing drugs at this hour.

2023/6/30 07:54 PST

A few dozen yards towards the two Centres takes us again to where the alley-groups were doing drugs the previous afternoon. Totally empty right now. And clean! I'll say this for the alleys of even The Worst Intersection In Yaletown: they're free of litter, not even a newspaper blowing.

2023/6/30 07:54 PST

I looked closer, and the fabric in foreground are not tents, no people; it's shopping carts full of possessions that have been wrapped up tight, probably to prevent anything falling off, or being pilfered.

2023/6/30 07:55 PST

The Gathering Place had a service that amazed me: a private library. This is not VPL, it's their own collection of books and movies. I have to say, though, that I didn't see anybody in this room on either visit. Readers, they are not.

2023/6/30 07:55 PST

Well, bored with inserting comments. My last few minutes document that this was the quietest time of them all, but look a few more down:

2023/6/30 07:58 PST
2023/6/30 08:02 PST
2023/6/30 08:02 PST
2023/6/30 08:03 PST
2023/6/30 08:03 PST

The signs along the sometimes-packed area beside the AIDS centre advise all that the place is pressure-washed daily, rinsed twice more. The washing also, obviously, is a "sweep" that removes all tenting.

2023/6/30 08:03 PST

I could come back at 11 some time, see if it is busy as it opens.