Pubdate: Wed, 28 Feb 2018
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Times Colonist
Author: Katie DeRosa
Page: A1


Emergency services taxed by spike in overdoses, incidents

Police, firefighters and paramedics are so overwhelmed with
drug-related 911 calls in the days after welfare cheques are issued
that Victoria's police chief wants the province to consider staggering
distribution of the cheques throughout the month.

"Generally speaking, we see a spike during the evening of welfare
Wednesday and the day or two after of overdose calls, disturbances,
drug activity occurring. Sometimes someone has been defrauded or
robbed," Police Chief Del Manak told the Times Colonist.

"A lot of it has to do with addictions and over-consumption of alcohol
and drug use."

Manak outlined the problem in a Feb. 22 letter to Sheila Taylor,
deputy minister of social development and poverty reduction.

The spike in calls "taxes emergency service resources, many of whom
are already operating at or beyond capacity," Manak wrote.

He acknowledged that changes to the welfare system could be costly and
complex, but urged Taylor to consider a pilot project in a B.C. community.

"I just want to step back and make sure the government has considered
whether there is a benefit to re-looking at how the cheques are
distributed," Manak said.

"I want to have the discussion: 'Are you aware that by doing this, it
puts a lot of downward pressure on your first responders?' "

Manak did not have specific statistics on calls in the days after
cheque day, but said it's "a significant increase." Cameron Eby,
president of the union that represents B.C. paramedics and emergency
dispatchers, said there's a noticeable spike in overdose calls in the
days after distribution of income assistance cheques, typically on the
last Wednesday of every month. "It does put an additional strain on
paramedic workload."

He said he wouldn't be opposed to Manak's proposal.

The B.C. Coroners Service said in its January report that "more fatal
overdoses occurred during the days following income assistance payment
[Wednesday to Sunday] than all other days in 2017."

Staff at social housing operators such as Victoria Cool Aid Society
and Our Place Society confirm a spike in drug overdoses after cheques
are issued.

Don McTavish, Cool Aid's director of residential services, said while
spreading out cheque distribution might ease the burden on emergency
responders, there could be unintended consequences.

"If some people are getting their money a week or two prior to other
people, there may be a danger of victimization," McTavish said, noting
that if someone is desperate for money, they might target someone who
has already received their cheque.

Our Place spokesman Grant McKenzie said for those who receive cheques
earlier in the month, he's concerned about whether there would be
money left to pay the next month's rent.

"I can certainly see how it would be a positive from the police's
point of view. … I don't really see any particular benefits to the
people we serve," he said.

McTavish and McKenzie said the number of overdoses would likely remain
the same, but would be spread out over the month.

In a statement, the Social Development Ministry said it has looked
into staggering distribution of income and disability assistance
cheques. "It is more complicated than just changing dates as cheques
are currently issued at the end of the month to coincide with rent and
utility payments. For the majority of our clients, this timing works
best for them to ensure they are able to pay their bills on time."

The ministry said there are other ways to address the problem,

* Receiving direct deposit, which nearly 80 per cent of people on
assistance use.

* Have rent cheques go directly to landlords.

* Receive smaller payments throughout the month.

"While there is some research that indicates staggering cheque days
may change the timing of when overdoses occur throughout the province,
that research also shows that the overall number of overdoses would
not decrease," the ministry said.

Researchers at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS have spent
the last two years collecting data for a "cheque day" study.

Of 180 participants, some receive their income assistance on the
scheduled date, others receive the payment on a different day. A third
group receives monthly income assistance in two instalments, said lead
researcher Lindsey Richardson.

The participants are interviewed twice a week about their drug
consumption, spending habits and access to health and social services.
The team is also doing widespread public consultation with
social-service providers, first responders and people on income
assistance to understand the implications of changing how and when
welfare cheques are distributed, Richardson said.

People on income assistance receive $710 per month and people on
disability receive $1,133 per month.
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