Living Through This: Community-Led Responses to a Pandemic

Downtown Eastside Pandemic Interviews, June-October 2020

This project intends to document the stories of collaborative work and shared purpose in response to COVID-19 in the Downtown Eastside. While many people by default think that heritage is all about saving old buildings, we view heritage as something that needs to be continually created. During this history making event, people will have a range of experiences -many life-giving and life-changing- and many have been engaging in significant and meaningful work that is important to document so that we have a record of it in the future. It is also important to us whose and what stories are being captured and told and so we wanted to be able to devote some resources to a more representative version of the city’s history and move away in some way from traditional biases.

Stories around matters such as peer sanitation, street art, access to online information, food provision which may seem so obvious to you is actually really important to have as part of a record. We also think that in addition to documentation and storytelling there is the possibility -if needed- for this storytelling to draw attention to calls to action or support that may be needed depending on the “project” or task.

Note – we (HVS) do not endorse the businesses listed, but we believe in the value that a thriving small business community contributes to a vibrant city and recognize the value of these businesses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


The following interviews are organized chronologically to give a sense of the pandemic unfolding over the past summer. The first interview was in May 2020.


Alisha Masongong – Acting Director, Exchange Inner City

May 14, 2020

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“When you have about 2000 plus people who are homeless in the neighbourhood and without housing, and the orders coming out to protect yourself from Covid-19 are to stay at home, to self-isolate, to keep six feet apart – this is very challenging for people who do not have a home.”


Naveed Noorani – General Manager, Potluck Café

June 16, 2020

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“We used our new location, which is just a shell of a new building, and we were able to turn that into a distribution center. Then we mobilized a distribution team to take all the food that is coming from different venues and break it into the needs of different SRO buildings and then have a squad of rental vehicles and volunteer drivers go about to each building to drop off the food. Our biggest focus is: how do we achieve this accuracy, timeliness, nutrition, safety, and to do it at the cheapest factor possible?”


Adriane King – Operations and Development Manager, H.A.V.E. Cafe

June 24, 2020

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“I think having made all of these contacts will really help us to work together in ways that maybe we haven’t historically. If you think about Potluck and us working together, we actually are competitors in the general marketplace, but through this we’ve come together and built trust and a really strong partnership.”


Doris Chow – Seniors Programmer, Carnegie Community Centre

July 6, 2020

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“I started seeing wellness bingos that were trying to keep people active, or practicing mindfulness…Chinese seniors don’t come across conversations about their mental health. Putting it into a game is something different and exciting for them. There are some cultural barriers to talking about mental health, and even concepts like mindfulness, so re-framing it in this way has been very positive.”


Rachael – Union Gospel Mission (UGM)

July 27, 2020

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“I think a lot of the time, especially in the DTES, people can kind of lump people into one category or maybe put some kind of division between like, this is my life and this is someone else’s life – but the more that i’ve gotten to know individuals in the community, the more that I’ve seen that community with other people.”


Dylan Goggs – Founder and CEO, Clean Start BC

August 6, 2020

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“One thing that sticks out as a highlight: there were handwritten notes on people’s doors for us, just telling us how much they appreciated us. And thanking us for helping their community and their homes. That was very meaningful for us and we took a couple of photographs of that and we’ll cherish that because no one else was doing that. No one else was going down there. There were other cleaning companies operating but they weren’t offering to go to the DTES and in fact people were scared to go to the DTES.


Jennifer Johnstone – Central City Foundation

September 24, 2020

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“When the lockdown happened, organizations had to come together. At first the conversation was not about ‘how do I save my organization’ but rather ‘what do I need to do to serve the community.'”


Robert Epp – Aboriginal Resource Worker, Aboriginal Front Door Society

October 9, 2020

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“We cater to the most vulnerable and the homeless. We work with every other non-profit agency, and the police too, to coordinate and give people a safe place to be. To find help, shelter, food to eat, and stuff like that…We had two single mothers that came in here and now they have places to live. Now they volunteer with us. And they have a roof over their heads and they are keeping their children safe. They were homeless and we came in to help them find housing. And they get housing and their world changes. And they come back and bring their stories to us, in a positive way.”

We acknowledge the financial assistance of the Province of British Columbia.