Pubdate: Sun, 18 Feb 2018
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Times Colonist
Page: 11


With toxic street drugs such as fentanyl killing four British
Columbians a day, much of the response has focused on overdose
treatments with naloxone, and supervised injection sites. Yet
public-health staff have concluded that emergency interventions such
as these will not stop the epidemic. If the supply of these drugs
cannot be halted - and no war on drugs has ever been won - the only
option is to prevent the downward slide that leads to street-drug addiction.

Many of the victims are middle-age men and women who have fought a
lifelong struggle against such challenges as alcoholism, mental
illness, the lasting effects of childhood abuse and more.

Simple tasks such as cooking a meal, washing clothes, getting a
haircut or holding down a job can overwhelm them. They live among us,
in street doorways and city parks, but, shamefully, too often they are
not part of us. Many die alone.

Community groups are trying to turn this tide. Because financial
donations are desperately needed, we want to give readers a sense of
the challenge involved. We'll focus on two agencies, Our Place Society
and the PHS Community Services Society, but many others provide
equally vital services.

Our Place, on Pandora Avenue, offers free housing for 135 individuals
making the transition from street living to a more permanent
lifestyle. Some stay as long as two years. There is also overnight
accommodation for 60. The costs are paid jointly by B.C. Housing and
Island Health.

In addition, the society provides 1,800 free meals a day, hot showers,
free clothing - including 100 pairs of socks a day - skill training,
medical care, counselling and employment referrals. These services are
made possible by 37,000 hours of volunteer support each year and help
from local businesses.

PHS offers housing for about 240 individuals at its Johnson Street and
Douglas Street centres. The Johnson Street facility was opened to
provide accommodation for homeless campers who set up a tent city next
to the provincial courthouse building. Many still live at the facility.

Some of the accommodation is longer term, some short term for
individuals in crisis. About 560 meals a day are served. The
supervised consumption site at the Johnson Street facility averages
1,000 visits a month, and no deaths have occurred.

Residents take part in providing services, which helps them to begin
regaining control of their lives. Among those services, two cleanup
teams work seven days a week picking up trash and discarded
harm-reduction supplies (such as naloxone kits).

These contributions greatly reduce costs and also create bonds among
residents, PHS staff and the broader community.

Managers at both societies make the same basic point: While the task
of providing such a wide array of services is enormous, the principal
difficulty lies in gaining the trust of people who haven't previously
been given many reasons to trust.

In last Tuesday's throne speech, the province committed to creating
cheaper housing. No doubt that is needed.

However, the hard truth is that the majority of overdose victims are
too scarred, physically and psychologically, to take up such
accommodation, even if it were available. Nor could they afford it.

The real counterattack must begin at street level. And magnificent as
the efforts of agencies such as Our Place and PHS are, they are not
enough. By some estimates, hundreds of individuals in Greater Victoria
need help and cannot find it.

This a challenge we all must face. More donations are needed, and more
volunteers are required. But most important, we have to see
homelessness and drug addiction for what they are: Symptoms of damaged
lives that can be repaired only if the entire community plays a part.
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