Dec 9, 2014 – Michael Clague – Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Michael ClagueMichael Clague works in the fields of adult education, social policy and planning and community development. He has done so in rural and urban areas for the three levels of government, for the voluntary sector and as a private consultant. He has taught and written and published extensively on public policy issues, community development and social planning. His most recent book is called Staying True, Staying the Course: A Study of Ten Successful Community Service Organizations in British Columbia (1997-2008).

Michael has been executive director of three voluntary agencies, the Britannia Community Services Centre (Vancouver), the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria, and the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC of BC, Vancouver). From 1996 to 2005 he was director of a City of Vancouver facility, the Carnegie Community Centre. It was during this period that Michael learned about the power of the arts for building community and community arts activity became the focal point of his tenure at Carnegie, culminating in the 2003 100th Anniversary celebrations of the Carnegie Centre and the Downtown Eastside Community Play.

Currently he is somewhat retired. He is President of the Community Arts Council of Vancouver and in this role is working with arts stakeholders in the DTES for the development of a “Community Arts Fund” to support Downtown Eastside residents’ participation in the arts. He is a member of the advisory board of the Columbia Institute for Civic Governance and a member of the board of the Fraser Basin Council. He is Past President of the Carold Institute for the Advancement of Citizenship in Social Change (Harrowsmith, Ontario) and of the Canadian Council on Social Development. Michael was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2008.

Notes on Michael Clague’s presentation 

By John Gunn

For those of us in Probus who live well above the poverty line and who may have merely driven quickly along Hastings Street from about Cambie St. to a block or two east of Main, our conception of the “Downtown Eastside” area may be quite wrong: we may well think of the area with very negative ideas, if indeed we think about the district at all. Michael’s intent was to correct our conception and he did so with great feeling and sincerity. His message is that while many of the roughly 18,000 people (mostly single men over 45) may have some drug or alcohol problems, they are not simply drifters or lazy addicts. His message is clear, that this is a real community and that generally these people have talents and a sense of who they are and where they are living.  While most are poor, they are not despondent and hopeless. Wonderful help is given by such groups as the Union Gospel Mission and other church affiliated sponsors, and much is done through the services provided by the Carnegie Centre, a City of Vancouver Community Centre like others. The fee for these people to join this centre is ONE DOLLAR! Here they can get a very thrifty meal, use the library, and in particular they can use the theatre where, at various times there may be: parts of the current opera being put on by Vancouver Opera Society, with UBC students helping out; shows being staged by some of the local residents, many of whom are talented performers down on their luck; a memorial service for one of the local residents who has died; and many other activities.

Admittedly there will be found about 300 people in this area with severe mental problems and they probably should not be here – in a previous era they would have been lodged in Riverview, and there are some discussions on re-activating this facility for just such people.

Surveys done by the city as to the residents’ most pressing concerns are: housing, a job, safety and health services.

At present the allowance from the Province for housing is $375 per month, which is inadequate and should be adjusted. The numbers of SROs (Single Room Occupancy rooms offered at rates less than the market figure) are insufficient, and gentrification of some of the buildings in the area means that such rooms become beyond the range for those on this meagre allowance.

While Michael encouraged people to support their favourite charities, he seemed to endorse the United Way as one of the best ways to make sure your donations are wisely allocated and well spent. He also encouraged the trend to provide affordable housing for those in poverty in locations other than the Hastings and Main area, and encouraged people living in those other areas to accept such housing and not oppose it.

Michael Clague is currently the Past President of the Community Arts Centre, which he feels is vitally important to the welfare of those who live in the Downtown Eastside. This organization, through a program called SWITCH, has raised a remarkable fund and promotes dozens of community arts events, be it musical, drama, educational or other pursuits. This was a wide ranging talk and space does not allow us to do justice to the whole message, but Mr. Clague confirmed how important it is to support all efforts to improve not just the housing but the services for these people and to recognize their own efforts to improve conditions and to find meaningful work. Ken Yule thanked the speaker.

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