Opinion Column

Downtown Eastside tours objectify those living with addiction

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

A homeless person sleeps on the sidewalk by a drugstore's mural in Vancouver. (Postmedia Network/Files)

A homeless person sleeps on the sidewalk by a drugstore's mural in Vancouver. (Postmedia Network/Files)

Vancouver seems to have two seasons: rain and tourists. Just as we make our way out of one, the other hits us full force. Nowhere is the throng of tourists thicker than Gastown, where they scramble for selfies with the steam clock.

Trying to get away from those tourists while out for a quick post-lunch walk, I wandered further into the Downtown Eastside than I normally do and was surprised to see the camera-wielding crowd didn’t stop there. In front of me were a man and woman – her stopping to snap photos of people lying on the street and him loudly explaining what he saw as the reason those addicted to drugs and living in the area didn’t try to help themselves and turn their lives around.

When I recounted the story to friends later that day, I was surprised to learn about the phenomenon of paid walking tours through the area, specifically advertising drugs and homelessness as a sort of local attraction.

The website Tours By Locals advertises a “private tour” of “Canada’s poorest postal code,” Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The two-hour tour costs $163 USD + GST. “Tour a fascinating but troubled neighbourhood,” begins the description.

How would you feel if tourists walked through your home or office and loudly sighed and lamented about how you would certainly never get out of this mess, and wasn’t it sad?

The guide of this particular tour, advertised on Tours By Locals as Winston W., also offers other tours of places like Grouse Mountain, Whistler and Granville Island. His profile says he lives in Burnaby and there are no credentials listed indicating he’d be able to offer some insight into the problems in the area.

Tour guides shouldn’t be making money off this kind of “slum-tourism,” nor should some of the city’s most sick individuals be flaunted as an attraction. We wouldn’t go tour the hospital and talk loudly about how terrible the people dying of cancer look and snap their pictures. Tourists tempted by the area, remember: those on the streets can hear you and what you’re saying probably hurts.