Losing track of a loved one in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) is hopefully something you never have to go through or experience. When you've lost all contact with someone you love, knowing where to start looking in an unfamiliar neighbourhood can be difficult and daunting.
At Union Gospel Mission (UGM), we often receive calls and requests to help locate loved ones. While there isn’t a perfect answer to what you should do, here are some places you can start if you ever find yourself in this situation.
Connect with community resources
If your loved one is actively missing, make sure you file a missing person report with your local police station. Anyone can file a report, and it can be done as soon as you suspect the person is missing.
Then, consider the resources or services your loved one might connect with in the Downtown Eastside. Ask if you can leave a descriptive message of your loved one with the outreach teams and other services in the area like shelters, clinics, or shops. Community service providers may recognize your person if they were a frequent visitor and could potentially pass the information to the individual about your search. It’s important to remember that service providers may not be permitted to share direct information about the missing individual, except to local authorities.
Earlier this year, when a young woman was reported missing, spreading the word to outreach groups in the Downtown Eastside led to a block-by-block search. In the end, the missing woman was located safely in Victoria, after search efforts had ruled out Vancouver.
Spread the word online
Another strategy, when trying to track down a missing loved one, is to ask for help online.
There is a Facebook Group for the DTES community that is active as of September 2023. Joining a group like this one and explaining your situation — or describing the person you’re looking for — could result in leads.
Reddit is another online resource: the r/vancouver group has over 490,000 members, and taking a glance at recent posts will show you how active and engaged people are on the platform. There’s also the r/DTES group, but membership and engagement are lower than the Vancouver subreddit.
Remember that other social media sites like Twitter/X, Instagram, or TikTok are assets to you too. Be sure to use relevant hashtags so your word is spread as far as possible.
Reach out to people in the neighbourhood
When you’re trying to locate a friend or family member in the DTES, think about who your special person could be connected to in the community. Make a list of the people they know personally and, if possible, get in touch with their friends.
Of course, locating people your loved one knows is dependent on whether you have a way of contacting their connections. If you can’t reach out to their immediate acquaintances, try expanding your search to people in the community your loved one wasn't necessarily close to, but who are consistently involved in the neighbourhood.
To connect with people in the DTES, think of community advocates who have made a name for themselves through their work. Depending on the circumstances, advocates may be able to help you form further contacts. One example would be Guy Felicella, a Harm Reduction & Recovery Advocate familiar with the DTES, who has spent nearly 20 years in the neighbourhood on his own journey of overcoming homelessness and substance addiction.
“Most people in the Downtown Eastside are connected to something, whether that is a harm reduction service like Insite, detox, a clinic, or a shelter drop-in.” — Guy Felicella
Surveying the streets in the DTES, showing a picture of your loved one, and talking to people living in the area for information can also be helpful. If you decide to approach people in the community, it’s important to recognize everyone has their own level of comfort and personal boundaries, and not everyone will be open to speaking.
Reuniting vs. privacy: The dilemma that comes with the search
Every missing person case is unique, and it’s important to consider the possibility that your loved one doesn’t want to reconnect or be found. This creates a dilemma, as you work to balance the hope for a happy reunion with the level of respect you have for your loved one’s privacy and agency.
There’s no clear answer to this dilemma. It often happens that people don’t want to be found because they’ve internalized the negative stigma and stereotypes that surround life in the Downtown Eastside. There’s also the possibility that the person you’re looking for is going through mental health, homelessness, or addiction struggles and is self-isolating.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that the person you’re searching for may be hiding because of trauma or harm inflicted by the person that is looking for them. In the face of stigma and trauma, sometimes it takes people time to resurface and find their way towards connection, if that’s something they want for themselves. Before embarking on a search for your loved one, reflect on these possibilities and weigh the benefits with the harms of pursuing a reunion. What’s happy to you may not be happy to them.
Staying the course
The search for a missing person is a hard road. Our hope is that these tips help you on your journey, and that every person facing isolation will soon be welcomed into a caring community and well-being. We’ve seen time and time again the difference that can be made in people’s lives as they experience acceptance and belonging. Thank you for working to extend care to the people you love most.
Resources for locating loved ones in the Downtown Eastside
If you are searching for a missing loved one, here are some available resources that may help your search.
- Missing Person - Vancouver Police Department
- Vancouver DTES Community | Facebook
- Missing BC Men & Women | Facebook
- r/vancouver | Reddit.com
- MISSING PERSON LIST
- Get Help | Union Gospel Mission
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