Question #1: Why isn’t the provincial government investing heavily in mental health and addiction treatment? If the situation along the highway strip in Cowichan, and in communities all over BC, is not a crisis, what is? Why are people wasting time over declaring a climate emergency when the disruptions on our streets and in our communities are glaringly obvious?
Question #2: Where are our two MLAs? Why don’t we see them openly and vigorously lobbying hard for provincial investment in mental health and addiction treatment right here in Cowichan? The silence from Sonja Fursteneau and Doug Routley has been deafening.
We should be grateful for recent decisions to implement parts of the Churchill report which made recommendations aimed at calming some of the more egregious disruptive behaviours that are blighting neighbourhoods and confronting businesses. Even so, there are indications Duncan city council is not exactly a willing partner in the effort to use a legal approach aimed at the more disruptive behaviours being experienced on the strip and in other parts of downtown.
This approach is a bandaid at best, although necessary in face of the reality of the situation.
Veteran mental health and addiction therapists are clear that a missing major ingredient in the current four pillar approach to this problem is treatment. Arguably, all we have in Cowichan is harm reduction, but province-wide we seriously lack access to treatment.
In the health community the accepted four pillars are harm reduction, prevention treatment and enforcement.
Supportive and low barrier housing qualify as harm reduction, as does needle exchange, although there is some question about how well that is running here. Non-profits also attempt to connect clients to services, again this is harm reduction.
Education programs are aimed at prevention but in face of the crisis in over-dose deaths, how effective have those programs been?
The new efforts by North Cowichan and Duncan to curb street behaviour can be seen as enforcement by making use of existing bylaws along with a commitment to fund staffing levels to make enforcement effective. This can be considered somewhat novel in that we would be asking those who engage in anti-social behaviour on the streets to actually be held accountable.
In terms of asking the RCMP to step up enforcement against street drug dealing is a little bit like asking them to stick a finger in a leaking dike. If the prison system can’t keep drugs out how is anybody going to stop street drug distribution?
We are also awaiting the announcement of the location for a promised “low barrier” housing facility for the homeless, yet another bandaid that will blight another neighourhood. Residents in communities across BC have been pushing back against the imposition of these facilities.
Yes, I know about the claim that a troubled and addicted individual needs a home before they can effectively begin to turn their lives around. That could be true but housing without treatment is a farce that imposes significant damage to a community where one of these facilities in imposed.
Veteran treatment therapists claim that there is little likelihood that a long term chronically drug addicted and homeless individual will ever submit to treatment. Nor are they even capable of functioning within commonly held community standards.
No one is really addressing how to deal with the hard-to-house chronically addicted, never mind those who have over-dosed and been brought back multiple times — each time with a little less mental capacity.
The bottom line is that we are investing millions in what is essentially ham reduction but not much more than press releases on treatment. There are casualties to this approach and they are largely among the taxpayers who are forced to pay for these exercises and who find their concerns largely ignored.
What we are doing is essentially very expensive babysitting of a hardcore group of people who have found they can thumb their noses at community standards and be given a free ride.
Real enforcement is called for and real options for treatment.
Patrick Hrushowy is a 45 year veteran of journalism, communications consulting, and business background, who just can’t stop writing.