Hope in Shadows: Stories and Photographs of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Joan A. Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and
ethnohistorian in British Columbia.
The Downtown Eastside is a notorious area in Vancouver known internationally for drug abuse, crime, and poverty. During the early 1970s, when it was known as Skid Road, the Downtown Eastside had few homeless and addicted residents. The residents were poor but the population comprised injured workers and old-timers who lived in hotels and boarding houses. Awarded the City of Vancouver Book Award in 2008, the authors of Hope in Shadows blame government cutbacks in federal housing projects in the 1990s as the reason for the transformation of a poor downtown neighbourhood to one of homelessness, drug abuse, prostitution, and poverty.
The idea for the book (and the title) originated from a fundraising project called Hope in Shadows which encouraged local residents to photograph their neighbourhood. The authors selected over 30 photographs and interviewed the photographers. The authors then set out to find the stories behind the photographs and in the process provide a forum for neighbourhood self-expression. Although it is not clear to what extent the authors edited the stories, the raw, unvarnished, and often heartbreaking stories illuminate and humanize the difficult lives of the storytellers.
Although the Downtown Eastside is negatively framed by media, by poverty and homelessness activists, and by governments, it is unusual to have a book present the subject of the Downtown Eastside as told by the people who actually live in the neighbourhood and consider it a community. Despite the conditions of life in this neighbourhood, the stories and photographs remind the reader that there is a sense of community for some of its residents and that not everyone who lives in the Downtown Eastside begs, steals, uses drugs, or lacks a roof over their heads.
The book has been co-published by the Pivot Legal Society, an activist voice in Vancouver which also contributed a lengthy introductory chapter. This book may do nothing to improve the Downtown Eastside, but the stories and photographs provide an opportunity to open the eyes of some skeptics to better appreciate the troubled Downtown Eastside.