British Columbia

Is Vancouver's DTES an appropriate place for at-risk youth?

A report from B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth shows the numerous ways social services, police and other frontline workers failed to rescue a girl called Paige from a downward spiral and eventual death.

B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth estimates nearly 150 youth living in DTES

Paige, 19, died of a drug overdose after a troubled life in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Her story has opened up a discussion about social services available to at-risk youth in the DTES.

A report from B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth shows the numerous ways social services, police and other frontline workers failed to rescue a girl called Paige from a downward spiral and eventual death

"It is a startling example of a collective failure to act by multiple organizations and individuals who should have helped Paige," said  Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s Representative of Children and Youth.

Paige travelled with her mother to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2009 and was regularly exposed to violence, neglect, open drug use and inappropriate living conditions. She eventually died from an overdose in 2013.

Review of services in the DTES needed

Turpel-Lafond says Paige's case demonstrates why there needs to be a review of the circumstances of youth living in the Downtown Eastside and the services they are provided. She estimates there are about 150 youth living in precarious situations in the DTES.

Scott Clark, director of the Aboriginal Life in Vancouver Enhancement Society, agrees with Turpel-Lafond and wants young people to stop being streamlined into the DTES.

"We've got 60 years of federal, provincial and municipal funding streams which have created this ghettoization of aboriginal services, primarily in Vancouver's DTES," said Clark.

"We've created an entire industry around impoverished people where we've concentrated services in the DTES. We have 260 organizations down there right now spending over a million dollars a day."

Need to provide services where youth are located

Michelle Fortin, executive director of Watari Counselling and Support Services Society, disagrees with the pair. She says youth go to the DTES because they are searching for support and a safe, strong community.

"Demonizing the community or just telling people to stay out of the community does not work," said Fortin. "The reality is that you need to meet them where they are at, develop a relationship and then bridge them with support." 

"When we are talking about really high-risk vulnerable youth, we need to have a continuum of support of services and we don't have those options in this system and that's the real problem."

Clark agrees more services are necessary, but believes they need to be decentralized and spread out throughout Vancouver's other communities.

"No child anywhere in this province or in this country or any parent of any child ever wishes to have their children live in the DTES."


To hear the full interview with Scott Clark and Michelle Fortin, listen to the audio labelled Youth and the DTES.

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