ann livingston

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intro’d to Ann while reading Travis Lupick (@tlupick)’s fighting for space


via Travis fb share: []

Osborn noticed Livingston at the DERA meeting because, while an entire room attacked her, she didn’t attack back. “I remember she said, ‘I hope whatever comes out of this will strengthen the community and be for the benefit of the community,’” Osborn said. “She was the only one that had the community in her mind … I was very impressed that she did. And so, that was the first time that I really, really saw Ann.”



2014 – 3 min video – REEL NW Extra | Ann Livingston: Life after FIX – Part 1


Ann Livingston discusses the successes and failures associated with the opening of Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site.

what strategy did we take to get insite.. and what strategy can we take to get another change


36 min –Ann Livingston on air (talk recovery)… Harm Reduction and Abstinence Recovery, what can we do to work together more. –[632566027:2048:ann-livingston]-on-air-harm/1222097367908849/

27 min – if that’s their best option in life (sitting in an alley injecting).. they’ve been failed on many levels.. i think that’s the smartest way to address any addict.. the drugs are doing something for them that isn’t going to

grammatis broken law


2017 article by Travis

At the front of the meeting was Bud Obsorn, a poet and budding activist who had just secured a seat on the Vancouver-Richmond Health Board (which later became Vancouver Coastal Health). Beside him was Ann Livingston, a single mother on welfare who had recently made a name for herself in the Downtown Eastside fighting for basic rights for drug users

Livingston had tried to organize drug users before. In 1994, a group she was involved with called the Innovative Empowerment Society broke off into another group called IV Feed. In 1995, it opened an illegal injection site on Powell Street called Back Alley.It was the first time that anyone in Vancouver had said that drug users should have a place they called their own (and another story in itself.) But it didn’t last long.

With this group that had collected in Oppenheimer Park, Livingston was making a second go of it.

It was largely a response to drug-overdose deaths as well as an explosion of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases that were spreading unchecked at the time. In 1991, there were 117 fatal overdoses in B.C. Then 162 in 1992 and then 354 the year after that. In 1998, the peak of the drug crisis of the ’90s, 400 people died of an overdose.

Livingston says that the idea in the park that day was to gather the people who were most affected by these problems—people addicted to drugs—and ask them what they wanted to do about it.

“Where can users go?” one of them read. “How do users feel about having no place to go, nowhere to wash, inadequate detox, constant police harassment and no one who cares?”

unauthorized home less ness


interview – organizing the unorganized – 2018

In the earliest days of this terrible trouble, where so many people were dying, and I thought we, you make every effort all the time. That’s a kind of thing; try every door, lift up every rock and look under it. Look for allies in the places you’d expect them, and look for allies in the places you wouldn’t expect them. That constant hunt. I ran for city council at one point, just so I could say, I did it; three times altogether. The first, and I really focused on this…they give you three minutes, and then the microphone goes dead, and there’s 20 other people lined up. So I’d say, “There’s 19 murders and there’s 22 pedestrian deaths, and there’s 250 people who died from drug overdose in our city last year.” Then I would link it to their houses being broken into.

People really sort of were startled, as I was, too, when I found these things out. I never won the election, but other people who did win the election, they’d say, “What about what she said?” I was revealing something that was concealed. 

We rented a storefront and we invited users, we had a meeting every week to govern the storefront, and then we had a meeting every week to schedule it. We had so little funding that you got a $10 stipend for being there for 12 hours and a little packet of tobacco, so if you were a smoker, they didn’t take all of your cigarettes. Then coffee. Then it was kind of a drop-in, and it quickly became a, what would be called an illegal or unsanctioned injection site. We were shocked at how much the police state left us alone for a period of time anyway.

That was surprising. I think that when we do civil disobedience, we learn to do it in a way that’s as civilized as we can, with as much information as we can. One of the great techniques was to have the drug users know everything that certainly I could find out. Some of the other people I was working with were more academic than myself. They’d say, “There’s these things called drug user unions in Europe. Do you know the Swiss, they prescribe pure heroin to people who are addicted to heroin?” These were things some of the people in the group knew, but many didn’t. These were very interesting things to them, as they were criminalized and couldn’t get the drugs they needed.

They were not welcome anywhere. Then they could join a group, that the very thing that had them kicked out of everywhere was the criteria for belonging. It would take people a little while to let that settle inside themselves, to say, “I belong here. I’m a member.” That’s a tremendously powerful motivator for people who have had nothing.

Then they realized that we weren’t going to go away, and we weren’t going to create a career for ourselves with high pay, so we could have them as our sort of cohort or something.

“Come in here, do your drugs, overdose, I stab you with some Naloxone, your life is saved, I call 911, the ambulance comes,” or whatever. You know, the great heroism of the emergency. Then just basically, you go back to the alley. You have no welfare, no housing, no belonging. I view my work always to build onto the next thing, because..

surely we’re not here just to save their lives over and over again while they live in an alley, and then, we lobby for higher wages for ourselves and better working conditions and counseling so we don’t get trauma.

At some point, someone thought it was a great idea to have what they called community groups do these things on contracts from the government. What’s happened here is if you look, these community services now are $30 million a year, $60 million a year.

The executive directors, into $200,000 pay, or even if it’s $100,000, it’s quite a lovely thing to have, six, ten weeks holiday off. Their board of directors is never voted from a group of members. It’s appointed by the executive director who has social contacts. “We need an accountant.” This is how you make a board. Where I think that, and I actually was a bit taken aback when this was really in its expansive phases in the nineties, and I’d go to the government and say, “We haven’t got any way to hold this group accountable.” They say, “Oh, it’s a community group.” I go, “Then what the heck are we?”

I think the most uncomfortable work is constantly feeling like you’re criticizing a not-for-profit, who fancy themselves to be asset-based community developers.

Just saying, some of this work is tough, and I’ve been discouraged by lack of training for people who are organizing the unorganizable, and also the lack of emotional maturity people can end up with in these positions.

But I think it was Bud who kept saying that at the beginning, that people are admired for their coping strategies, except drug users. “People use drugs because they might kill themselves if they don’t. It’s their way of getting through and getting by, day after day after day.” Once I could see that, it helped me a lot, because they cost a lot of money, they’re so hard to buy, and you’re going to get arrested. It’s a huge headache.

If you look at data and research and finally we’re starting to get science on this, most people who have two years without using drugs have made 11 attempts before they got that two years. Of course, they don’t design services around this. I would, if I was going to design a service for something someone was going to have a go at 11 times, I would make it accessible, easy to get in, very encouraging, “Oh, it didn’t work out for you this time.”

What is now being said all the time, it’s a chronic, relapsing condition. For anyone who’s ever stopped smoking cigarettes, when you are at that party and you have a drink and then you decide to bum a smoke off someone and smoke again, you don’t announce to all your friends that you’re now back to smoking. You just sneak that cigarette and you get right back to that nonsmoking business. I think that goes on with everyone who deals with addictions. It shouldn’t cause shame. The problem we’re having now is with Fentanyl in these drugs, they have that one little sneak and now they’re dead. They’re found dead. We’re in a very difficult, and it seems irreversible

That’s another point I make. If the only way you can tell that someone has taken a drug is by testing their pee, then why is it any of your business what drug they’re on?  I mean, most people are on something, unless they’re like Seventh Day Adventists or something. They’re drinking coffee; there’s all kinds of things floating around in our bloodstreams, and we get terribly puritanical when it comes to certain drugs. It’s very upsetting

there’s now a number of these initiatives that are going on. The problem is to have someone who does the job of an organizer and then doesn’t turn it into service provision. That’s what I feel like is difficult.


find/follow Ann:

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abundant community site:

Ann Livingston is a pioneer in the movement for harm-reduction and affordable housing for people who use illegal drugs. In addition to co-founding and leading VANDU for more than a decade, she co-founded the Pivot Legal Society in 2000, and was a founding member of the Eastside Movement for Business & Economic Renewal Society board in Vancouver, BC

Ann was instrumental in the opening of Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site and the only one of its kind in North America. Her work was featured in the documentary film “FIX: The Story of an Addicted City,” which follows a group of street addicts in their fight to open Insite. She now speaks and works with community groups around the world to set up provincial, national and international drug user groups.

vandu: []

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users or VANDU is an advocacy group based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The group believes that all drug users should have their own rights and freedoms. They have been actively involved in lobbying for support of Insite, Canada’s (and North America’s) only safe injection site, located in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver

VANDU was created in January, 1998, to combat the many different threats to the social health of the population of drug users living in Vancouver, including overdose. Its founding members include Ann Livingston, and Bud Osborn, who later became a member of the Vancouver-Richmond Health Board.

injection sites

Bud Osborn – down here (doc)

Liz Evans