Content Note: subtle tones of violence, drug use, mental health, homelessness.

The sound of a match strikes against the friction of the book and ignites a flame, the smell of sulfur dioxide is instantly released into the air followed by the smell of a newly lit cigarette. The match flicked into the street, a few puffs and we begin our journey. 

It’s a beautiful autumn morning. The sun peaks in through the buildings and alleyways and a cool breeze is coming in from the ocean. The city is stirring, it has been up for a while now; 9am and I feel late, yet I’m right on time in my daily route. Only in the early mornings just before the sun rises are the streets quiet. All except for the City of Vancouver workers with their trucks cleaning up the garbage along Hastings. Sweeping it onto the road for it to be picked up. When the city awakens, there are many moments of laughter, brief moments in time where joy is shared between one another, sitting on their milk crates, stools or on stairs in entrance ways where people trade and buy smokes. Wrinkles that are exaggerated with their smiles, eyes lit up and for a moment, I forget where I am. I see now that there is a sense of belonging, a sense of community. For many, this is their home. Home. 

The downtown eastside is its own little chapter, its body stretches from Princess ave. to Cambie street where it completely drops off its edge and normal life resumes. Convenience stores line each corner of the intersections. Rats scurry underneath garbage bins in piss alley and the birds are addicted to nicotine, one does not want to get on the bad side of a crow in this realm this is their purgatory. They cling to tree branches with watchful eyes. Watchful eyes. 

The city is rich with culture, diversity, and opportunity. It is a living and well-oiled machine pumping out vessels onto a conveyor belt to do its bidding. The noise of traffic is deafening. Bright lights are over exaggerated at night and it clouds the starry sky. Walking past the quint pastries shops, the smell of sugar and bread tickle my nose. I especially like the one on Cambie and Hastings just on the border of light and darkness. The chocolate croissants are large and flakey; hunched over like a wild beast over the sink is often what it takes to eat one. Starve the beast. 

Standing there at the intersection of Main and Hastings outside the Owl Drugs Store I can almost feel the heart that beats underneath this city. Every single pound is deafening. Duh-duhn, duh-duhn. The beating gets louder and louder. 

WEE-oww-WEE-oww, the wailing sound rises and descends slowly in pitch, loud honking, and colors of red and blue flash past me, I am startled awake. 

I walk along Hastings towards Carrall Street. Pidgeon Park resides on the right-hand side of the intersection, the sun does not hit this space. No shadows are casted on the sidewalks or buildings. This is where you can go to buy cheap smokes, 4 bucks a pack and you can get yourself some quality Rolled Golds. I’d sooner quit smoking before resorting to Reserve cigarettes. Sucking them back and picking wood chips out of the paper, any bit of nicotine in them is merely residue from an ashtray. But business is booming. It’s Welfare Wednesday after all and there is a line up of people down Columbia street outside of Pigeon Park Savings Credit Union, impatiently waiting to cash their cheques. 

I close my eyes and find myself mapping out this body. Running my fingers along its curves, and down its spine. Gore ave., Blood alley, Pender street, Abbott street, Cordova street, Powell street, Columbia street. Interlocking bones, this skeleton is deteriorating. Bites, bruises, and track marks run up along the arms of this frail body, it is diseased. Eyes dulled from years of self infliction, existing. Only existing. Oozing and rotting flesh known as Cellulitis runs through the legs, swollen. Ribs battered and broken; I shutter thinking of the screams being held within this cage. Rape, murder, overdose deaths. Each crevice, each corner holds a story. Haunted. I chuckle at the thought of comparing the city to one of the frail bodies that occupy the hotel rooms that have long been retired. Desensitized. 

The sun shines on the brick walls of the old buildings and the shadows flee into the alleys. These hotels, many now known as SRO’s house the houseless. Famous hotels like the Regent Hotel, Hotel Balmoral, Hotel Empress, Portland Hotel are known for their nightmares. Broken windows line the outer walls of the buildings with blankets covering them. How many of those rooms have seen dead bodies? Cockroaches, bedbugs, and rodents infest the hallways, unlivable conditions. Many buildings are unmarked, gated and look abandoned. Graffiti spills over them, making the doors near invisible. The untrained eye would not know whether it was an SRO building or the backside of stores and shops. 

Walking down Cordova street towards Main there is a chill in the air, it comes West from the cobblestone streets of Gastown, it sweeps through my hair and I hear whispers. I turn around, but there’s nothing there, no sun shines down this street, the light is blocked by the buildings that hang above. I take a turn left on Main street and head towards Crab Park. Many people who were residing in Oppenheimer Park fled to Crab Park when the eviction notice was posted and temporary blue fencing with security spikes were installed. Displacement. The parking lot owned by the Port of Vancouver beside Crab Park now has a permanent 10-foot-tall fence with barbed wire running along the top. When it was being installed, a security guard patrolled the parking lot 24/7. The houseless residents of Vancouver had fled to this parking lot beside Crab Park prior to the installation of the fencing. An uninhibited parking lot never used by anyone and the Port of Vancouver attempted to take legal action in convicting these people who had nowhere to go. They were pushed out and they made their way to Strathcona Park, where now nearly 400 reside. Pushed. 

Salt stings my nose coming off the ocean, it blankets my face. The smell of piss from the portable toilets installed along the path through the park reeks. My eyes shift elsewhere, I turn back. Up and over the bridge above the train tracks, I am close to completing my route. Main and Hastings, we meet again I say to myself as if it has been a lifetime since we had seen each other. I sigh in relief, sunlight again, the warmth calms me. Carnegie Community Centre towers over the streets, large concrete grey pillars stand tall around the stairway to the entrance. The courtyard to the left is busy. People shifting, mocking, and buzzing. There’s so much movement here, it blurs together into a mixture of colors and sounds. The heart of the body lays underneath my feet once again. 

Police cars are parked out front and an Indigenous woman is screaming at the cops as she’s being arrested. It’s a sight to see. A sight I have seen many times before on this block. I wonder what it is this time that warrants an arrest. She screams, “you fucking pigs!” Others join in, it doesn’t take long before a crowd forms. It dissipates quickly. Discrimination. 

I head on Main towards Keefer street, my destination. Tim Horton’s. Time to refuel. It’s not noon yet and so the storefront is quiet. A woman kneels at the entrance of the shop in a hunched over position asking people for spare change. She is currently between me and my caffeine. She has mid length greyish white hair that is wild, she’s wearing the same clothes as the last time I saw her. She doesn’t recognize me, although why would she? She was a client at the homeless shelter I work at and I remember her outbursts. Drugs had taken whatever mental capacity she had long ago. Diagnosed with a history of drug induced psychosis and schizophrenia. A common combo on the downtown eastside for many occupants. Looking into her eyes, I am reminded of my own battle with drugs, I am reminded of my Mother who also had struggled with mental illness. That lack, that longing, like a hole in your chest that can’t seem to be filled by anything, drowning in pain and seeing no way out. Trapped.

 I give her the only change that I have, a loonie. Dissatisfied she asks for a 10 or a 20. 

I say “sorry, that’s all I got.” 

I go inside. 

“Hi, may I take your order?”

“Yes, I’d like a large double double. That’s it”

“How will you be paying?”


“Ok, go ahead”

 I grab my order, take a sip and as usual they never stir it properly, and yet here I am everyday buying a large double double. I chuckle at the irony.


Content Note: This piece is written about the death of a family member.

I feel a vibrating sensation in my pocket. Somewhere deep inside of me I already know who this phone call is concerning.

I answer, “hello?”

“Hello, is this Dawn Campbell?”

“Yes, this is Dawn.”

“This is Constable Sarah Harding, I am with the Niagara Region Police Department; I am calling about your Mom, June Dunte.”


It’s a beautiful summer morning and my coworker and I are walking down Jackson St. towards Powell after having walked the beat down Hastings. Oppenheimer Park to the left of me is lined with bright blue temporary fencing panels that stand ten feet tall with sharp security spikes running along the top to keep the residents of the downtown eastside from getting in. The city workers have already begun their day as they continue to restore the park; loud machinery and the smell of gasoline fills the air. The slight breeze coming off the ocean is cold to the skin in the mornings and the sun shines down reflecting off the concrete and it warms my face.


The taste of coffee and cigarettes from earlier that morning coats my tongue and a bitterness forms in my mouth as my throat begins to tighten and swell. The tone in the constables’ voice tells me this time, its different.

“Your Mom was found dead in her home. From what we can tell she died while she was sleeping as she was found in her bed.”

The words coming through the phone hit me, like a grenade exploding against my ear, I am shell shocked. Everything comes to a stand still; time no longer exists. A heaviness spills over my shoulders and I am trembling.

Cracks and grooves have formed in the concrete from the trees roots that have grown underneath over the years. I notice the unevenness where I stand, and it irritates me. The sun hides behind a cloud and is no longer shining on my face; I feel naked. The house to the right of me is staring and its old broken-down fence mocks me. I am haunted. Sorrow grips me and pulls me to the concrete and reality pushes me right back up. The phone begins to slip through my hands, they are cold and clammy. The beginning signs of shock take over. I need to flee this body; the discomfort becomes palpable.

“Where did your Mom want her body sent to?”

“What funeral home did your Mom have arrangements with?

“Did she have a Will?”

“There are two funeral homes in the area, please make arrangements to have her body picked up from the morgue by one of them.”

“This needs to be done in a timely matter, is there anyone who may know if she had a Will?”

I am overwhelmed and angry, angry at society, angry at our western culture. She is merely an object now; an object that is taking up space, that needs to get processed and moved as quickly as possible.


I take a breath. I inhale, I exhale. Time has resumed. I can hear the traffic on Powell and the city workers landscaping the park. A breeze coming off the ocean runs through my hair and the smell of gasoline coming off the machinery in the park stings my nose. I look over at the bright blue fencing with the security spikes running along the top to keep the residents of the downtown eastside from getting in.

I thought I had more time.

Online Counselling

Online counselling or e-therapy has become more and more popular over the last few years. It now comes in many forms such as, email, text, or video conferencing like Zoom or Skype. 

There are many benefits to online counselling, mainly convenience and affordability. Because online counselling can be accessed anywhere where there is a decent internet connection it makes it incredibly convenient and accessible to those who may be living in remote areas or in times like this, where meeting in person is much more difficult, online counselling offers a great alternative. Furthermore, it’s often more affordable because counselors may not have the overhead costs such as office rental fees to may for if they are working from home. There also could be a wider range of choices and services provided. In my counselling practice I offer the option to email me between sessions for extra support, and psychoeducation that can come in the form of videos, articles, and books as I value the importance of understanding and broadening our knowledge and I also can provide resources and referrals to other services if needed. 

I would like to highlight that there are limitations to online counselling:

  • It could be more difficult to read body language which is incredibly important in counselling.
  • There may be times that internet connection is not secure, in this case, switching over to a phone call is an option during a session. 
  • It is not appropriate for serious psychiatric disorders. 
  • It is not appropriate for crisis situations.  

I will be honest, online counselling may present as challenging. I myself have been rather resistant to online counselling in the past. It wasn’t until I started seeing a counselor over Zoom that I truly saw that there is so much therapeutic value that can be experienced through an online platform. It doesn’t have to be restricted to just in person interactions. With that being said, having a secure internet connection is important. Some of us may be at home, where we have family or we may live with roommates and it could be difficult to create a safe and quiet space for one on one online counselling sessions. What is great about this dilemma though is that it creates an opportunity to exercise boundaries and self-respect. Ultimately, craving out this time for yourself, creating a safe and quiet space amid the chaos that could be within your home is an act of self-love. Look at that, our work has already begun.  


Strength Counselling. (2018). The Benefits of Online Counselling. 

Good Therapy. (2020). Rules and Ethics of Online Therapy.

Chronic Pains

Note: I wrote this story for my creative writing course in January, 2020. There are many reasons why I have decided to share this story;

  1. My Mom was a huge reason why my life led me into the social services field and this being my first post for my counselling & coaching practice, I found it was quite fitting to share something so personal to me.
  2. I want to share personal experiences with readers/clients as a way to get to know me.
  3. My Mom unexpectedly died in July and by sharing this story, readers will see the complexity of a strained relationship and that grief and loss can be emotionally confusing.

Chronic Pains

She texted me this morning, an all too familiar text. I sighed and began to mentally prepare myself for the phone call. The phone rings, I answer. Her voice trembling, I could hear her pain through the phone, I felt an ache in my chest, as she went on to express how she cannot go on living like this anymore. Her body was deteriorating before her. Her mind had already failed her and now she was trapped in a body that was failing her too. I hadn’t seen her in years but I remember the sorrow that had grown to be her face, her thin lips, a frown that never seemed to go away, and eyes dulled from a life of loneliness she had cast upon herself. I could hear her shifting her body through the phone, the sound of the cigarette package being opened and the lighter being ignited, ‘flick, flick, flick’ and the deep inhale. 

“Mom, it’s going to be ok, you just have to keep holding on, you’ll be in for your surgery in a few months and the pain will go away, this is just temporary.” I didn’t know what else to say, we had this conversation many times, and I was repeating myself hoping for a different response. There had already been a suicide attempt a year prior to this for different reasons. Knowing she had the capability now, I was doing everything in my power to talk her off the ledge. She went on…

This brought me back to a childlike state and I recalled times as a teenager where I would stay home from school to make sure she wouldn’t hurt herself. Selfish woman. As I heard another inhale of her cigarette through the phone, I remembered sitting across from her at the kitchen table doing my homework, and her smoking, and writing her ‘to do’ lists. She used a ruler for everything, even on lined paper; she still does to this day. I watched her suffer my entire childhood. By the time I was 18, she no longer looked like the woman I called Mom. That person didn’t exist anymore. The person sitting across the table from me had similar features yes, however, I never knew who’d I’d be coming home to. Was this person going to lovingly ask how my day was or was this person going to take all the dishes out of the cupboards and smash them on the floor? Unpredictable woman. I could feel my throat tighten and my eyes began to water. 

“Mom please,” I exclaimed, “you’re my mom, and I love you, I don’t want you to leave me, I want you in my life, I know you’re in pain, but please, don’t talk like this”

4300 kilometers away and I was trying to convince her not to kill herself over the phone. I hated this, I hated when she was like this. 

She yelled back at me, “that’s so selfish of you! I’m in so much pain and all you can think of is yourself! What about me? What about what I’m going through! Everyday is a struggle to get out of bed.” she begins to cry again, the trembling creeps back into her voice. She lights another cigarette, ‘flick, flick, flick’ and the deep inhale. 

Chronic pain had taken over her spine and on her good days, pain shot through her body like lightning hitting a tree. I couldn’t imagine. She rambled on about how meaningless her life was, and how she was lonely and had no friends, that she was miserable and the pain only made her more aware of it all. 

Sitting back at the kitchen table across from her, me doing my homework and her writing her ‘to do’ lists. Behind her was a countertop and the china cabinet above and a large mirror in between.  I often made funny faces to amuse myself and procrastinate my homework, she’d tell me, “your face is going to stay like that if you keep it up.” I laughed. This time, I looked at the mirror, and I saw her staring back at me. My throat began to tighten again, and I was reminded that I am my mother’s daughter after all. 

At this point I am riding the waves of emotions with her over the phone, and I am becoming impatient. She always knew the right things to say to get on my nerves. Manipulative woman. She is no longer sitting down, I can hear her movements through the phone, the creak in the floors, like the creak in her bones, she sits down on the couch. She adjusts herself, trying to find a comfortable position, the pain flows through her body, like a boat rocking back and forth in the water. I hear the tide crashing upon the rocks. She cries out. Wailing and moaning, I can’t make out what she is saying. A combination of the psychological trauma she has chosen to carry and the physical pain that reminds her of it. 

“I need to go, I’m tired,” she says. 

And I let her go. 

“Bye Mom.”