The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver and generally believed to be the poorest neighbourhood in all of Canada.
The Downtown Eastside is home to poor and displaced populations including First Nations people, runaways, prostitutes, petty criminals and
drug addicts. The DTES's (and Vancouver's) drug problem has grown steadily worse over the last decade with the most common drugs being heroin and crack cocaine. To deal with this the City has recently opened the countries first official safe injection site in this neighbourhood. The Downtown Eastside also has the unfortunate distinction, according to a recent article in The Georgia Straight newspaper, of having the highest rate of HIV infection in the Western world, largely attributable to the sharing of infected needles by intravenous drug users. The southwest corner of Main and Hastings Streets continues to be a problem as drug sellers and users frequently occupy the corner, despite recent efforts at increasing police presence at the location. A major police station is only half a block north of the intersection.
The historic hotels of this area now rent out their rooms as "single room occupancy" (SROs) which provide housing for some of the most difficult people to house in Vancouver.
This area was the center of the City at the turn of the century. City hall, the courthouse and the Vancouver Carnegie Public Library were all located here. It was also the main shopping area for the city centered around the Woodward's building. Prior to World War II, there was a large Japanese community in Japantown.
As the city centre moved to the West, and the shoppers stayed in the suburbs, the area started to decline. When Woodward's shut down 1993 the area declined even more rapidly. The main businesses that remain are pawn shops and run down restaurants and shops, some of which are a front for drug dealers.
In the 1980s many of the street prostitutes in other parts of Vancouver were harassed out of the neighbourhoods they were in and into the industrial areas of the DTES. Many believe that this has exacerbated the problem of violence against prostitutes. The trial of Robert Pickton, a pig farmer accused of the murders of over 40 women (mostly prostitutes) from the DTES is currently ongoing.
The Downtown Eastside is defined by Cambie Street to the west,
Clark Drive to the east, Pender Street to the south and Cordova Street
to the north, with Hastings Street running down the middle of the
neighbourhood. The area located between Cambie and Main Streets is generally considered the worst part of this neighbourhood.
Vancouver's historic Chinatown (Pender Street) and Gastown Historical District (Water Street) are popular tourist areas in the Downtown Eastside. Gastown is home to many high-end restaurants, lofts and boutiques. Some see this gentrification creeping east as a promising development while others are concerned that this will only force many of the poorest from the only housing they can afford.
The Strathcona neighbourhood is also within the DTES and is a historic working class neighbourhood that has retained a very strong sense of community, despite the decline of the general area.