Pubdate: Thu, 08 May 2014
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2014 The Georgia Straight
Author: Yolande Cole


OVERDOSE DEATHS IN the Downtown Eastside had reached epidemic levels
when activist and poet Bud Osborn flew to Ottawa with MP Libby Davies
to advocate for a supervised injection site.

After meeting with then health minister Allan Rock, Osborn returned to
tell community members and drug users about his discussion.

"This was a huge shift for people who were despised to hear that one
of their own had done this, was in Ottawa and that the MP was there,"
recalled Ann Livingston, who worked with Osborn to found the Vancouver
Area Network of Drug users.

"They were relegated to humanness, which they did not have," she told
the Straight by phone. "They were not viewed as human beings."

Osborn, who died Tuesday (May 6) after being hospitalized for
pneumonia and a heart condition, also pushed for the
Vancouver/Richmond Health Board to declare a public health emergency
in 1997, a move that helped pave the way for the establishment of Insite.

"We saw a real change in the policy around needle exchange, and we saw
the persistent discussion for injection sites as being the only way
around this horrible problem with overdose and the spread of
bloodborne pathogens," said Livingston.

Davies, a close friend of the poet who worked with him for 20 years,
said Osborn has been "a hero in the Downtown Eastside".

"He's inspired so many people, not just in the Downtown Eastside, but
across the city and even across the country with his incredible
advocacy and passion, and leadership on stopping the war on drugs, and
speaking out for people who've been so marginalized and criminalized,"
Davies told the Straight by phone from Ottawa.

She views Osborn's contributions as central to the establishment of
Insite, through both the role he played on the health board, and in
the way he helped drug users to organize and to find their voice.

"I don't have a shadow of a doubt that if he hadn't been there, it
wouldn't have happened," she stated.

He also had a way with words that allowed him to reach people from all
walks of life, the Vancouver East MP recalled.

"He was the kind of guy, he could talk to lawyers and judges and
politicians and bureaucrats, and scientists and business people=C2=85or
just the ordinary person on the street," she stated. "He could
communicate with people and get them to understand what was going on,
and he always spoke the truth, always. He never shied away from it."

Downtown Eastside activist Jean Swanson knew Osborn for about 15 to 20
years. She credits his work in helping to pave the way for Insite with
saving "hundreds of lives, if not thousands".

He was also a vocal opponent of gentrification in the neighbourhood,
and frequently spoke about how the Downtown Eastside is "a caring
community, where people look out for each other", Swanson noted.

"He came from=C2=85to hear him talk, a really horrible background," she
said. "And then when he moved here he found a community, and he always
said that this was his home, and he wanted to live in the Downtown

Swanson noted that community members were stopping by the Carnegie
Centre this morning to talk about Osborn and the impact that he had on
the neighbourhood.

"He was always really nice to people," she recalled. "To absolutely
everybody, no matter what their station in life."

Osborn was the unofficial poet laureate of the Downtown Eastside, and
was often seen reciting his work at community rallies and events. He
also led writing workshops at the Portland Hotel, and helped others to
publish books of their own.

In the years of skyrocketing overdose deaths, Osborn spent his days
attending meetings, and his evenings reciting his work at poetry
readings, according to Livingston.

"The overdose numbers were very, very high," she noted. "They impacted
him in a very real way. These were his friends, these were people he

Davies recalled how crowds would often go silent when Osborn read his

"He was a great voice for the Downtown Eastside and he said the words
sometimes people couldn't express themselves," she recalled.

"And I've been in many meetings where Bud was reading a poem or
speaking, and people were just spellbound, because they knew that what
he was saying is what they wanted to say, and maybe couldn't quite
articulate it. But he also helped people articulate their own voice,
and that was very important. He gave a lot of people the courage to
speak out."

Swanson said she has been carrying around Raise Shit!, a book that
Osborn co-edited, with her all day, reading excerpts that the activist
wrote. One poem in particular, she noted, has resonated.

"We have become a community of prophets in the Downtown Eastside,
rebuking the system and speaking hope and possibility into situations
of apparent impossibility," she recited. "To raise shit is to actively
resist, and we resist with our presence, with our words, with our
love, with our courage.

"Speaking hope and possibility into situations of apparent
impossibility," she added, "that's what he did."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt