Home > Three Days on the Skids
Vol. 7 Issue 1

Three Days on the Skids
Lisa Luscombe KwaKwa'ka'wakw – Quatsino First Nation

Spending three days on the Downtown Eastside (skidrow) made me look at Aboriginal Homeless people in a whole new perspective.

Before my vision of Aboriginal homelessness was based on reports and statistics. Now I have a whole new perspective and a better understanding of what Aboriginal homeless people actually face on a daily basis.

I know that many of our people are living in poverty and it’s a growing epidemic. It’s people we know our moms, dads, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are lost and their spirits are weak from addictions, abuses, cycles of dysfunction and oppression.

While walking through skidrow I saw people I knew but didn’t recognize at ? rst because they had aged so much and they looked very thin and malnourished.

I also saw Aboriginal families walking around skidrow hoping to ? nd their lost relatives because they haven’t seen them for a long time and heard their relative was seen on skidrow. They look in bars, ask at hotels, ask people, walk up and down the streets. They try to think positively, hoping their lost relative is still alive and well. They hope that they haven’t been swallowed up by the earth from poverty related issues such as drugs, alcohol, murder, suicide, drug overdose or terminal illness.

As I walked through skidrow I saw many people shooting up crack and ? ghting mental illness with a low cure rate. I saw chronic alcoholics, people with sores all over their bodies, people with bad hygiene because they cannot go home and shower, people with bruises all over their bodies, people starving, and people ? ghting for survival.

One Aboriginal woman I spoke with told me a story about a part of her life that she deals with repeated, and that is relationship violence. She’s lived on the Downtown Eastside for 28 years and has been through a lot. She’s experienced relationship violence her whole life; and that’s only a part of the issues she faces everyday. She has two different boyfriends that she goes back and forth to. One of her boyfriends she’s only been with for two years and the other man she’s been with for 15 years.

Both her boyfriends are supposed to care for her but beat her up on a regular basis. Sometimes they beat her up for no reason or because they are angry and can’t ? nd money to support their alcohol or drug addictions. In both her relationship’s they’ve both beat her brutally to the point where she’s been put in the hospital, had black eyes, broken bones, broken noses, bruises all over body, been thrown and pushed around. One of her boyfriends has even put her out on the street as a prostitute to support his alcohol and drug addictions. She has never charged them because she wants to stay with them and she’s scared of being alone.

Another Aboriginal man I spoke with has lived on the Downtown Eastside for two years and has already experienced the epidemic of drug addiction and male prostitution. The story he shared with me was that he used to be a male prostitute but he’s not gay – he only did it to support his drug habit. He lives in a rat infested hotel on Hastings Street and pays $325 a month.

When he ? rst moved into the hotel he was beat up by his own landlord with a baseball bat for giving him attitude. His sister also lives in another hotel nearby and she’s had HIV for ? ve years. His sister is the reason why he moved down to skidrow, so he could be closer to her because he never saw her for ? ve years and didn’t even know if she was still alive or not. That’s when his life changed dramatically, he became hooked on crystal meth and started male prostitution. He told me being on crystal meth feels like an infatuation with whatever you like to do. For example if it’s writing than you’d just want to write the whole time you are high.

One of his infatuations is dumpster diving. He’s proud because he’s mastered the side jump in and back ? ip dumpster diving skills. He can spend hours in the dumpster looking around in it because he thinks there’s some kind of treasure in there for him. Sometimes if he’s lucky he’ll ? nd something he really likes, like the of? ce chair he found in the Westend. He pushed the chair all the ways back to the Eastend because he thought it was such a treasure. He’d like to get off the streets but he feels stuck and feels like he’s too deep into the street life to reverse his situation.

Another Aboriginal male youth I met was only 17 years old and had been living on the streets for two years already. He sleeps outside all year round and isn’t receiving any social assistance income. His income is from selling drugs and stolen goods. He relies on food banks and the support of his fellow street neighbors. His dad was also homeless and his mother is an apartment manager. His reason for living on the streets was because his mother disowned him and he wanted to be closer to his father. He has a Grade 9 education but can’t read or write. He drinks alcohol, smokes weed and occasionally does rock. In ten years from now he sees himself still on the street, and doesn’t want to go back to school.

These three Aboriginal homeless stories are only a small piece of the huge jigsaw puzzle of Aboriginal poverty. Listening to their stories of hardships and suffering was very upsetting. I felt very honoured that they were willing to share their stories with me and to give me the inside on how life really is on the skids. All the Aboriginal homeless people I met on the skids were very nice, friendly and made me feel very comfortable. People may drive by, judge them and point at them like they’re watching a freak show circus. What they need to realize is that they’re human just like everyone else and they aren’t there because they chose to be there. I would like to see all those judgemental people experience what Aboriginal people have endured over the last 100 years and see how they survive the ongoing cycle of dysfunction.

Experiencing three days on skidrow has opened my eyes and made me realize that as Aboriginal people we need to work together in eliminating poverty amongst our people. We need to help heal open wounds and help our people ? nd the right path towards their healing journey. We need to ? nd better solutions and services to cater to their needs.

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