‘We’re under constant attack’: Graffiti installation appreciates Vancouver’s Chinatown

The gates at Dr. Sun Yat Sen classical Chinese has not always been locked, but Lorraine Lowe says the chains are a symbol of trying times.

“This patio used to be open to the public and we’ve had to shut it down because of the vandalism,” she told CBC News. “It’s crazy.”

On January 16, the exterior walls of the historic garden were spray-painted while windows in the nearby Chinese Cultural Center were smashed. It is the latest in a series of vandalism cases that have hit society over the past two years.

Lorraine says the crimes happen so often that it’s hard to tell if they’s specifically targeted or if it’s a symptom of an even bigger problem in the city.

“It’s discouraging to say the least. It’s just that we’re under constant attack,” she said. “It’s gotten a lot worse after COVID.”

Graffiti is depicted on businesses in the Chinatown neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, January 17, 2022. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

A recent study suggests that there have been higher incidences of crime in low-income neighborhoods in Vancouver. The Vancouver Police Department says Chinatown’s proximity to Downtown Eastside means there have historically been crime challenges in the area, which have worsened during the pandemic.

“Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a series of rising and worrying incidents involving aggression against racist people or hate crimes … and we are investigating them very thoroughly,” said Sgt. Steve Addison.

Bill Kwok, deputy chairman of the board of the Chinese Cultural Center, says his building has been the site of a series of arson-related fires that are becoming costly to deal with.

“Our funds are very limited and when this happens we are not able to fund our programs properly,” he said. “And once you sit down [these buildings] on fire, it’s very historic, and there are a lot of artifacts inside, and it would be a shame to lose all that. “

The aftermath of a burglary at a store in the Chinatown neighborhood of Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, January 17, 2022. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

Finding a solution

Proponents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside say systemic challenges around poverty and mental illness have long been widespread in society, and conditions have worsened amid dual health crises affecting the most vulnerable.

“This community has struggled with grief and loss for many years, people who have dealt with PTSD and trauma,” said Fiona York, a community advocate. “The Pandemic and the Opioid Crisis [have increased] the loss, the trauma, the grief. “

York says problems like crime will not go away until a concerted effort is made to lift people off the streets and out of poverty.

Over the past two years, the province has spent more than $ 250 million on securing housing for BC’s homeless population. However, it is still unclear what effect the effort had on the number of people living on the streets. In Vancouver, the annual homeless census has been canceled for the past two years.

Police say vandalism has long been a problem in Chinatown, but incidents have increased over the past two years. (Ben Nelms / CBC)

World Heritage Site

As for Chinatown, community members would also like to see more levels of government put more effort into supporting low-income residents.

“There needs to be ongoing support for the marginalized society,” Lowe said. “If we can tackle the major issues of addiction and mental health, I think it would really help.”

MP Jenny Kwan, who represents the riding in Vancouver East that straddles both neighborhoods, said she has advocated for more financial grants to the community at the federal level.

She is also among those who lobby for the neighborhood to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which would consider it an international landmark with legal protection and could help secure funding to preserve and maintain its streets.

“We need to do that and work together to recreate Chinatown with its history and appreciate its character,” she said. “But we need capital investment.”

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