Calls to ‘Defund the Police’ were amplified during the unprecedented protests that followed the death of George Floyd in 2020. Here in Vancouver, the call comes from community groups reacting to a ballooning police budget and an alarming trend toward the criminalization of poverty. On any front, the term ‘defunding the police’ is still wildly misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that there would be no police. What it does mean is a reallocation of funds to invest in alternatives to policing. It means indigenous, peer-led, mental health outreach teams, and the redistribution of a budget that eats up 21% of our tax dollars (FYI, that’s about $800 per minute). This column explores some of the community groups in Vancouver that could use some of those funds. Today I’d like to introduce you to the Yarrow Society.
WHO | The Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice, as it’s more formally known, is a non-profit society that grew out of a desire to bridge the intergenerational divide by connecting youth with low-income immigrant seniors in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside. It currently consists of a Board of Directors (primarily youth), and a trim six-person staff.
A large part of Yarrow’s work is in their public programming which ranges from providing seniors with translation services, face masks and vaccination clinics to partnering seniors with youth to help reduce isolation, and even to delivering fully subsidized, fresh, and culturally appropriate groceries to seniors living in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside.
In addition to it’s focus on supportive programming, The Yarrow Society provides grassroots action and representation in situations that threaten seniors in the Chinatown. Recently, Yarrow spoke up for seniors practicing Tai Chi in a city-owned mall after they were kicked out by mall managers. They also mobilizing protestors and speaking out against the controversial Chinatown condo project at 105 Keefer Street.
NOTE: Though the developer (Beedie) eventually won approval for the Keefer Street project, Yarrow intends to further engage with those who may ultimately be displaced by re-envisioning, to talk about how the space could be used by putting on a “Collage & Karaoke” night on July 28th (intended to “demonstrate to various levels of government that 105 Keefer has the potential to become so much more for the community than just luxury condos”).
WHY | The tremendous importance of this sort of work was underscored by the heat dome circa 2021, which disproportionately and tragically affected seniors living alone. In a city known for its social isolation, Yarrow Society fills a vacuum with small acts of mutual aid and connection. For further reading, check out this illuminating Tyee profile by Yarrow volunteer and organizer Sean Cao.
Yarrow is committed to making life more enjoyable for seniors in Chinatown. They can’t make the kind of connections needed to sustain a marginalized community without funding. Safe cities are cities where all members are engaged and looked after. By redistributing some of the money we put into policing, a group like Yarrow could ensure they continue to care for their community and advocate for justice.