Former longtime area NDP MP Libby Davies will be a guest in an Oct. 28 at Heart of the City

When Libby Davies first tried to establish a library in the Carnegie Community Centre, she was told no. “We went to the library board, but they only wanted a reading room. The board said that people in the Downtown Eastside didn’t read. We were outraged at the myth, that if you’re poor you don’t read.” Forty years later, the former, long-time NDP member of Parliament is looking back on one of her greatest legacies. On Oct. 28, Davies will be a guest in a special online event that celebrates the opening of the Carnegie Community Centre and its library. The event, hosted by Terry Hunter, kicks off the 17th annual Heart in the City Festival, which includes more than 100 events happening live and virtually until Nov. 8. In a separate, pre-recorded event hosted by Am Johal, Davies reads selections from her 2019 book Outside In: A Political Memoir. Advertisement STORY CONTINUES BELOW This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content continued As Davies recalls, it took six years for her and her fellow activists/organizers, including her partner Bruce Eriksen and DERA (the Downtown Eastside Residents’ Association), to get the Carnegie off the ground. Davies started working in what was then known as Skid Road in 1972, while still a liberal arts student at UBC. (She dropped out the following year, as her work in the DTES took up more of her time.) As much as things have changed since then, many of the problems — rampant drug use, homelessness — rage on. But she’s enthusiastic about the city’s plans to house some of the city’s tent-dwellers — city council just passed a $30-million homeless action plan. “I think it’s a very substantive and significant solution,” she said. “This is a perennial crisis. I was working on this as a young organizer in the ’70s, in the ’80s, the ’90s when I became a member of Parliament, and still it continues.” Davies blames current conditions on the loss of existing low-income housing and national housing policies under Paul Martin’s prime ministership (2003-2006). “Canada stopped its federal housing program, and that had a dramatic impact. I know because I lived through it. I was there when we had the housing programs in the ’80s, and we used those federal funds to build Oppenheimer Lodge and co-op and social housing. We are still recovering from that loss.” Davies’ own impact on the area is immeasurable. The Carnegie is one significant touchstone. According to recent statistics, the library boasted the second-highest (after Marpole) foot traffic in the city for a neighbourhood branch. And then there’s the creativity that has come out of the Carnegie, some of which is showcased at this year’s festival. Events include the Sandy Cameron Memorial Writing Contest, an annual event that celebrates the creative writing of Downtown Eastside-involved residents; and In the Beginning, which features storyteller/filmmaker/performer Rosemary Georgeson and Firehall Arts Centre artistic director Donna Spencer delving into stories and history of local Indigenous peoples prior to and during colonization. “Incredible poetry came out of this building from people’s lived experience,” Davies said. “Bud Osborn used to give poetry workshops. They used to have poetry nights, and they were amazing. People would be enthralled. “Bud’s work touched people so deeply. He wrote about the neighbourhood and what people were experiencing. He and Bruce Eriksen and (recently deceased playwright/journalist) Bob Sarti and (activist/writer) Sandy Cameron have all been pivotal people in the centre. “It’s a really important place. For people who don’t have their own living room, the Carnegie became the living room of the community.”