This girl in the photograph lived in the Astoria with me for a while after I’d taken the picture. Just friends. I didn’t know her really and I was looking for photographs. It was daybreak so there’s some natural light and there’s very little traffic. She was sitting on the corner doing her makeup and I asked if I could take her picture and she says “Okay, but you gotta wait ’til I finish doing my makeup.”
So I said “Fine,” I says “Do you want a cigarette?” so I rolled her a smoke, which is what she’s got in her fingers right there. She finished doin’ her makeup and says “Okay, you can take your shot now.” So I took that one.
She usually hangs around on Kingsway. Her mom lives on the island. She went back there to try and find a better lifestyle but she didn't get along with her mom’s boyfriend. She stayed with me for a while. She needed a place to stay. Things like that happen often in the Downtown Eastside.
She asked me “Can I stay with you for a while, I need a place to stay” and I said “Well I can’t,” you know, thinking that my girlfriend would get jealous. Girlfriend is not really the proper way of saying it, you know, you call them street sisters I guess.
I met Kat on the very same corner where I took this picture, just after Christmas, and right away we knew we clicked and she happened to have Dutch ancestry as well. She wanted to come and see me but the guy she was living with at the time made sure my telephone number disappeared.
I’d gone out between Christmas and New Year’s and my roommate stood me up the year before on New Year’s, you know, like went out the minute before midnight and I thought that’s not gonna happen again so I’d given up on her coming home and us having a celebration.
I went out for a walk and on that same corner Kat comes riding by in a taxicab and jumps out of the car and she explains the story with this other guy that she was staying with, that she wanted to get away from him. She really wanted to be with me, she said, right away and she went home, picked up a few things and basically moved in.
Then the guy she was staying with found out where she was and he came knocking on the door the next day and said “I want my girl back” and Kat went “I’m nobody's girl, I’m my own. Go away.”
Kat and me clicked right away. She was a very significant person in my life. She died last Christmas. Not even twenty-three, four weeks shy of her twenty-third birthday.
We went through quite a few things when she was dying. She told me about a week and a half before that she was gonna die. She told her grandpa a month and a half before, and basically it’s “Why me? I’m so young, why am I in so much pain?”
If there was legal heroin to deal with people’s pain you wouldn’t get these infections. If people were treated a little bit better even though they’re drug users, if they weren't moved around so much, if they actually had a home where they could stay for a while to recuperate, these things wouldn’t happen.
She died because no doctor could be found to come give her the antibiotics that she needed. That’s what she died of, not getting a renewal on her antibiotics. Apparently a doctor needs to be prescribing it, and there was no way that she wanted to go in an ambulance to the hospital and wait in emergency. I’ve taken her to the emergency in a wheelchair and she’s been refused medication for pain because she was a druggie.
The main reason that I open up my doors to people on the street is so that they would have a place to sort of come home. They’d have a refuge and a chance to stabilize. I’ve taken care of a lot of people, people with stab wounds, people that wanted to get off the drugs. It was a safe injection site before the safe injection site was open. We had to do that out of our own apartments.
There’s a lot of places called SROS right, single-room occupancy, or single occupancy residences as they’re called. I don’t think they're very well managed in general. I had a place I had to vacate because they weren’t doing the maintenance. The fridge had an electrical short in it so if you touched the sink and the fridge at the same time you’d get a shock. They wouldn’t fix that. The fan in the bathroom had stopped working so it was getting mouldy. They did nothing.
You know, people out there are freezing. I used to make the rounds when I was staying in the shelter. I’d hand out leftover food and there was clothing. I’d look after a few people and if everybody does that, looks after a few people, then the world's much better.
The safe injection site could’ve been open as a health care facility right off the beginning, but it started up as a research facility. All the reports are out, now it's gotta be continued as a health care facility. Of course Harper’s gotta play out his cards, you know, like they make all these promises at the beginning, being Conservatives, “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.” So they get all the votes. He has to say “I’m against it” but then there’ll be an overwhelming majority that will pressure him into the extension that they need. People will be dying if they shut down the safe injection site.
If you read the reports it’s been shown to be everything that it was promised to be, and we should’ve known that a long time ago.
I’m going to the Netherlands next week. My parents live there and I do research there. This time I’ll look at the housing situation. Holland’s done quite well. They had a major problem with a housing shortage since the Second World War and they’ve always been open to refugees and yet they don’t seem to have many people on the streets.
One of the resolutions is that they don’t allow any building to be vacant for three months. It’s gotta be used. I know when I was on the street in the winter you can’t sleep anywhere because it’s too moist. By the point that you start falling asleep you shake, you wake up, and after a while you just get to the point where falling asleep becomes synonymous with being in shock. At night when you’re on the street and I’d be walking past these buildings and there’d be like one person in there, a security guard, and the whole building would be heated.
I also met a person who does the street paper in the Netherlands. He was amazed that there were so many people on the streets here, especially, Indians as we call them—you know, Natives—and I explained to him that we destroyed their culture and that’s what happens.
I’ve been in the Downtown Eastside for about five years now. Before that I was twelve years on a farm, living in a log cabin. ’Til my marriage broke up, and then I was still there for three years. I have a degree in biology and zoology from UBC. I love living in nature but when you start talkin’ to yourself, you gotta answer yourself back.
You know, Kat still comes to see me. I mean just yesterday for instance I was working on my computer, you know how the screen goes black, then if you haven’t used it for a while you have to touch it to make it turn on again? Well I just walked by it and all of a sudden the screen goes on. She does these things with electronics. She used to turn my TV on for a couple of minutes, just to let me know that she’s there. I really loved her. She loved me too. She said she’d stay with me ’til she died and, you know, she did.