En 1997, los vecinos y las vecinas de Downtown Eastside comenzaron a celebrar reuniones semanales para debatir una idea radical: un sindicato de personas usuarias de drogas que lucharía por los derechos humanos de sus integrantes.

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The drug-users union known as VANDU marks its twentieth anniversary at a time when B.C. struggles with an unprecedented epidemic of overdose deaths.

In the late summer of 1997, a poster with a message aimed at drug users appeared on electrical poles around the Downtown Eastside.

“Meeting in the park,” one read. “Discussion items: police conduct, violence and safety, ‘Is this your home?,’ washroom facilities, neighbourhood relations....Let’s talk about a community approach.”

It was a revolutionary idea, that people who use drugs should gather and organize around shared challenges and interests.

 On September 9, 1997, a few dozen people took note and met at the east end of Oppenheimer Park.

Donald MacPherson was there that day. He was working at the Carnegie Community Centre at the time and the plight of drug users who congregated on the corner of Main Street and East Hastings had caught his attention.

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Thumbnail Flickr CC Chuck Grimmett