Just when you think humanity has hit an all-time low, something like the "Socially Responsible Van" tour shows you that there is still room to go.
The tour, led by Jenn Potter, takes tourists through a guided walk of Vancouver's most down-trodden neighbourhood -- the Downtown Eastside. Potter says that the tour was born out of a genuine interest about social enterprise and designed to highlight companies that "give back to the community" in the area. She maintains that her intentions are good.
However, the path to hell is paved with good intentions and Potter's intentions seem to be lost on a demographic of people who seem more interested in gawking than in engaging.
Although the "Socially Responsible Van" tour has been operating since 2014, it only recently captured public attention after being reviewed by a writer for the Toronto Star. The Toronto Star endorsed the tour, touring its brilliance as it exposed the "poverty, addiction, prostitution, mental illness and homelessness" of the community -- all for your personal education...or perhaps entertainment...who is to say? The article went on to boast that the tour allowed its participants to give a homeless people "...a sandwich..." in exchange for the "...opportunity to look an invisible person in the eye."
While this interaction appeared to have fascinated the reviewer, there is no indication how the aforementioned "invisible person" felt about having the opportunity to look an imbecile in the eye.
This tour capitalizes on and monetizes the misfortune -- whether real or imagined -- of others.
Since its inception, however, the Toronto Star reports that hundreds of people have taken the tour. This means that hundreds of people are willing to pay the whopping fee of $185 per person, $195 for two people or $275 for a group, for the privilege of gawking. Referencing online content about the tour, there is nothing to indicate that any portion of this money is donated to a charity or not-for-profit organization in the Downtown Eastside.
This is, quite literally, ogling for profit.
The "Socially Responsible Van" tour is, to be blunt, completely and totally irresponsible. It has been called horrible, de-humanizing and exploitative. And for good reason -- it is all of those things.
Much like a zoo, the "Socially Responsible Van" tour offers tourists the opportunity to observe "the other" up close, while simultaneously distancing themselves from the complex reality of the situation and the duty to actually do anything about it.
This tour capitalizes on and monetizes the misfortune -- whether real or imagined -- of others. It lumps all residents of the Downtown Eastside into the same dismissive, downtrodden boat of addiction, poverty and illness. Any attempt to distinguish between the complex realities of its residents is likely lost on groups of people who are willing to a neighbourhood community like an expensive amusement park, existing to satiate their own curiosities, for a day.
Perhaps worst of all, though, this venture does absolutely nothing to actually enrich the community it exploits.
Rather than donating profits to a charitable organization, or encouraging participants to put time in volunteering at a non-for-profit, the tour offers nothing more than the opportunity to observe. It does not motivate change. Instead, it allows privileged individuals, with enough disposable income to afford the exorbitant fees, to talk a short walk on the "other side of the tracks." This is not something that should be accepted or tolerated in our City.
So, if you're thinking about taking this tour -- why don't you save yourself, and everyone else, the trouble and simply donate $185.00 to a charitable organization of your choosing in the Downtown Eastside?
After all, that is the socially responsible thing to do.
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