Moving to Vancouver from Ottawa years ago, was easy, it wasn’t a difficult decision, nor was it a hard transition. It just seemed right, we fit. We threw ourselves into the outdoor life, hiking, snowshoeing, running, biking, and walking everywhere. We did what so many transplants do, we moved into a tiny 750 square foot apartment in Yaletown, our rent was double that of Ottawa, and it was half the size, but we worked with that little shoe box.
We adopted a dog, and our apartment had more love and less room in it. On weekends, we added our dog Thira to the mix, taking her everywhere with us. We just soaked in everything we could. So naturally, when I became pregnant, we carried on with the exact same sentiment. Errr, ok, for about 3 whole months, we attempted to buy a place of our own, thinking that we needed more room. Have you heard of something called real estate in Vancouver? It is absolute insanity. We looked in North Vancouver, and put in an offer in 3 places that were just o.k. We were outbid by more than $300,000 over asking. Just let that sink in a bit.
By the time I was 5 months pregnant, I said it was insane for us to move. I just wanted to enjoy being pregnant, and besides, living downtown was awesome, there were plenty of families doing it, why couldn’t we.
When my son arrived, our apartment was squishy, heck, the stroller had to be rolled into his room, and everything seemed to be about 3ft away from everything, including the washer. It was squished with love, and the great outdoors was just outside our doorstep. My recovery from birth was brutal, walking outside was a challenge, but I managed. Soon, my painful walks extended from around the block, to walking a good 5km with stroller and dog. The birds sang to me, the sun left beautiful streaks of light along the ocean water as I walked along it. I smiled, all the time, how could I not. I felt like I had a perfect life.
I began to take up Stroller Fitness classes, we met at the local Roundhouse Community Centre. 15 Mummies and strollers would start following our instructor outside with a fitness routine. It was so Vancouver. Afterwards, we would all crowd in a coffee shop, exhausted, needing to nurse our babies and give ourselves a caffeinated pick me up. I met my Mummy tribe at these classes. Soon my classes ended up in play dates, shopping trips, wine outings, and of course birthday parties. My life felt full and complete, or so I thought.
At 13 months, my son became mobile. He didn’t just walk, he ran full tilt, wanting to climb up everything, and run into water. My new routine became leaving our apartment at 7:30 and heading to our little play structure under Cambie bridge. There I would discover, the real Vancouver, the side that no one really likes to talk about. There would always be about 3 or 4 people sleeping under the play structure, sometimes with garbage littered around them, and always with needles somewhere around the playground.
I guess I should back up the story a bit. During the Olympic games 2010. The city had a massive influx of homelessness, and no place for them. The shelters were oversubscribed, and the only mental hospital in Vancouver was closed in 2008 (in my opinion, it was the biggest and stupidest mistake BC ever made). The mayor, seeing that there was plenty of space elsewhere in the city for temporary shelters, decided to open them up in more residential areas like Yaletown. It was a cold winter no doubt, and on paper the temporary shelters made sense in places there was empty city owned space. The problem was, the Vancouver police couldn’t keep the drug problem contained. Me being pregnant during this time, didn’t see how it would impact my life with a child.
Fast forward to my child being mobile and needing space to play. I was stuck. As soon as I saw my first needle on the ground, I called needle pickup, explained where it was, backtracked to the coffee shop, where I would then sit with a cranky and active toddler wanting to play. I would then head back to the playground, where I would meet local police and chat with them about the people sleeping under the play structure. It was so hard, I hated kicking people out of a public park for sleeping, it was a safe and dry spot. The problem with Vancouver’s drug and homelessness problem, was a percentage were on drugs with mental illness, which the Vancouver Police were beyond amazing about, when you see a 90 pound strung out woman being chased by 6 physically fit police officers, you realize just how much strength and agility a strung out person really has. Then there were the drug addicts and alcoholics who have been in cycles of being clean, then going back onto the streets. Of course, then you have the people who are down and out, trying to survive and find a safe place to crash away from the drugs. There were more homeless people and they were sleeping everywhere and anywhere it was dry in Vancouver.
Everyday, I found myself getting a coffee, heading to the playground, calling needle pickup and the police. EVERY SINGLE DAY. After 3 months, I started crying, it was exhausting and emotionally disturbing. I talked to the officers about Vancouver’s problems, they kept repeating that it was becoming more difficult to contain, and it was heartbreaking from all sides. I never felt angry, just sad. I felt it was becoming more difficult for my baby to remain innocent.
My husband and I knew, that it was time for us to move on. We didn’t want this life for our son.
We moved back to Ontario, but Vancouver is still our first love. We belong there, and it was obvious when we were reunited last week. I will be honest, I cried the first day we were back, the city skyline had changed, but the vibe hadn’t. We still belonged. Our tribe was waiting for us.
Our son loved being back, he said that the streets didn’t scare him the way Toronto does. There was a familiarity that seemed innate, like he already new it. He fit. He is a B.C boy after all. Then, we went to the playground, and there we found 4 people sleeping. We didn’t go in, we didn’t look for needles, we just carried on to the coffee shop, and had a lengthy discussion with our 8 year old about Vancouver’s drug and homelessness problem.
Our 8 year said quietly “why doesn’t Vancouver have tiny homes?” if people had a safe place to sleep and call their own, they wouldn’t feel worthless and put drugs into their system.
There you have it Vancouver, your answer from an 8 year old!
I still love Vancouver, but don’t miss Needle Pickup.