Heather Hates Stuff: Poverty Tourism in the DTES


UPDATE: On October 13, the Gastown Gazette removed their article and issued an (unsigned) apology to the "people who were offended." In it, they allege threats made against their writer – which I have never seen anywhere online despite following the conversation quite closely, and would obviously never condone. 

They have also deleted the tweets to my employer; to my friend's former employer; and those threatening legal action against my friend. No acknowledgment of or apology for that, though.

Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to voice their support; shed light on the Gazette's general conduct; and more importantly, reflect on poverty tourism and media portrayals of the DTES. 


Heather Stoutenburg


Earlier this week, the Gastown Gazette posted a really gross 'ironic' (their words) article about the DTES. I won't bother linking to it because frankly it doesn't deserve more traffic, but the long and short of it is it was really exploitive.

There is a reasoned critique to be written, about how the DTES is not a zoo; how people obviously in the throes of addictions don't need to be mocked; and about the history of colonialism repeating itself as well-off people occupy and take over the few remaining spaces in that neighbourhood where low-income people can hang out... But at the time, I didn't bother writing it. I did, however, giggle when a friend of mine wrote a, shall we say colourful, tweet retort.

No, it wasn't a reasoned critique nor was it maybe very nice, but it was cathartic to see someone calling out that stereotypical “ha ha look at the junkies” bullshit and so I "favorited" said tweet.

Now, the Gazette has gone on an all-out attack and tweeted at my employer and the non-profit I chair because I "endorsed" that behaviour. Fortunately, my DTES-based employer always has my back (and so does their social media manager; what up colin) and the non-profit works with many youth from the DTES to eradicate that kind of oppressive colonialist bullshit the original article dredges up. I’m not getting canned tomorrow, presumably to their chagrin.

But that’s because I have privilege in spades. Something a lot of people in the DTES don’t have. The Gazette can call me out and try and get me canned and I will face basically zero consequences, but it’s a real shame to think that someone actually talked about, or photographed, in the original article probably wouldn’t be so lucky. Voicing their dissent would not be an option. And that’s a real bummer.

There’s not really a point to this except to say speak out, if you can. When you see people being assholes to marginalized people, say something, because maybe that marginalized person isn’t in a position to do so themselves. Oh and also, I’m not saying DON’T read the Gazette, but I am saying there are many other local publications who don’t bully people in the community they’re supposed to represent.

Heather Hates Stuff: Wet Feet

I fucking hate wet hair and I fucking hate wet feet. Unfortunately, those things are par for the course in Vancouver. Though I quickly embraced a device to avoid the former (umbrellas that I’m constantly losing – working theory is the taxi companies have a warehouse full of them somewhere), it took me FIVE YEARS to do anything about the latter. But today, finally, I bought some goddamn rubber boots.

I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long to accept that rubber boots can and should be a staple of a Vancouver wardrobe. I had a somewhat-serious think on it in yoga today (yes, another Vancouver thing I’ve embraced) and realized that accepting rubber boots in my life is somewhat synonymous with accepting that I live, possibly permanently, in Vancouver.

Those who know me also know that I never really intended to end up here. I was, in fact, trying to move to a different country; but when that went sideways in 2010, I had to go somewhere. Vancouver, with its mild (yet RAINY, DID I MENTION RAINY) climate and close proximity to my parents and left-leaning politics and population of people I vaguely knew, seemed as good a choice as any. So I rented an apartment (keeping my Calgary condo), brought a teeny tiny amount of stuff (like, a mattress and some kitchen shit) and decided to wing it for a little while.

Then five years went by. In those five years I built a community, found a gig that I love, started chairing a non-profit, shacked up with a dude and... Still somehow spent winters wearing soggy ballet flats. I think it took buying a townhouse for me to come to terms with living in Vancouver. Yes, you heard me correctly: I committed to half a million dollar real estate purchase before I committed to rubber boots.

But I did it!  I bought boots! I walked home in the rain and my feet are DRY!

Guys... This might be home. 

Heather Hates Stuff: Standing Still

It's not a secret that I get bored easily. Part of the reason I love digital is because it's always changing; there's always something new to learn. And speaking of learning, I've been doing a lot of that -- somewhat more formally than usual.

Last month, I took an Ideo U course on Insights for Innovation. Naturally I crammed an 8-week curriculum into a weekend, but I got a lot out of it and I now have a lame certificate to prove it.

And this week, I'm attending Vancouver's first Design & Content Conference. Today's topics included super heroes and sexual assault. The programming is... diverse, you could say. I'm pretty into it, and anything else that gets me out of the office and using my brain for something besides writing 17 different subheadline options for a cell phone banner ad.

Heather Hates Stuff: Shitty Service

Before I found a way to monetize my foul mouth and short attention span with an advertising career, I had a brief foray into customer service. Which for obvious reasons was NOT a good fit. But, it did give me an appreciation for good service when I find it, because god knows I'm not capable of delivering it.

As such, I am pretty jazzed to be helping grocery giant Save-On-Foods improve their customer service -- with a campaign centred on this nifty little website.

Go check it out and let them know if your Save-On-Foods staff is up to snuff.

Heather Hates Stuff: Cannes

"I’ve never met anyone who has seen a vending machine reward them for laughing, I’ve never walked through a door marked ugly, got a Coke from a drone, or been offered a crisp packet with my face on it. [...] The one thing that binds together the more than 200 Cannes winners I’ve seen, is that they are ads only advertising people have a good chance of seeing."

THIS. So much this. I'm sure your Oculus Rift experience about a baby bear on a remote Canadian island is moving, stunning, gorgeous, whatever... for the 12 people who'll see it. Now can we get back to celebrating work that works?

I'm really lucky to work at a place that values effectiveness (and still hired me after I referred to award shows as a circle jerk... in my job interview... with the Managing Director.)

Read the rest of a great piece by Havas' Tom Goodwin here.

Heather Hates Stuff

I've been 50/50 on calling this blog Heather Hates Stuff or Heather Eats Stuff. But then I realized I fucking hate food bloggers. So that's settled.

Here's what's up guys: I'm a hater. My co-workers know me as "the fun buster;" my trademark move is the eye roll; and my twitter rants are legendary. I can find something wrong with just about anything. Seriously, try me. Do you like something? Name it. I will find a way to ruin it for you.

Haters gonna hate. And thanks to the internet, we'll do it loudly.