The Addicted Homeless in Vancouver - Opinion Editorial

With the closing down of the homeless camp in Oppenheimer park and the recent crime surge in downtown Vancouver as a result. The public as well as politicians are squarely confronted again with the question of what to do with the homeless residents of Vancouver who suffer from addiction and other mental health concerns. It’s a problem all cities deal with and it comes with a crushing economic and emotional toll. It’s a problem that so far has seen no viable large-scale solutions. The elusiveness of a sensible and humane way to deal with this issue speaks to its complexity. People vary widely in their opinions of what to do. On one thing however, we are all in agreement. Not much has been done to change the situation in a tangible way. This has not been for a lack of effort, housing first programs like Rain City and Vancouver Costal Health initiatives like MPA society have been at the forefront of this epidemic for decades. Before that, Riverview Hospital was fighting that fight. Countless tax dollars have gone to remedy this  situation. Housing  complexes have been built, laws have changed to decriminalize the symptoms of drug addiction, resource centers such as the CAIT and ACT team have sprung up all over the DTESthere is even an opiate vending machine that dispenses free medical grade opiates to eligible candidates. Still, the surface of the problem has hardly been scratched. 

To me it seems, all these solutions and strategies that we implement have been designed to ignore something. A way to sweep these issues under the rug so we do not have to face a deeper and more terrifying issue. It is very possible that as a society we are not mature enough to discuss such things at such a fundamental level.  We may not have an answer to this question, but I feel it needs to at least be asked. At one point is someone incapable of getting better? The hard reality is that some of these persons lack the cognitive and emotional capabilities of getting better and becoming productive members of society of their own volition. Society is getting more and more complex by the minute. 

Rates of mental health issues such as addiction, depression, suicidality and personality disorders are on the rise. They are a marker of a world that gets more and more difficult to navigate as time goes on. Add cortical inhibition as a result of malnutrition and drug abuse, and the ability of oneself to control his or her actions is drastically impaired. Record evictions from housing first programs are being reported. Homeless people given a place to live often decide to sleep on the street anyways. The homeless are given food that they trade for small amounts of drugs before asking for more, they are selling the phones that were given to them so that they could schedule and keep vital doctors’ appointments. They are forgetting to refill anti-psychotic medication with alarming consequence Hundreds wander the streets at night robbing stores and houses, breaking into cars before returning to the DTES to pick up more drugs.  

How then dwe determine whether or not someone lacks the ability to alter their course? Even if we could make that determination, what then do we do about it? I have seen hundreds of street entrenched people go to treatment and utilize the many resources B.C has to offer and get better. I even did this myself. I know it’s possible and I would never ask for these services to be taken away. It’s amazing we live in a place that is so caring and willing to help the less fortunate and disenfranchised. But to tippy toe and sidestep the question in fear of appearing cold and callus does the province a great disservice.  

We need to admit to ourselves that the current solutions are not working, that we have been putting band-aids over a festering wound and we defer the consequences down the line to the future. That we have been doing this for years, and the people who are affected most are the sufferers. In science, its not always the answers that advance the chosen field to new and greener pastures. It is someone asking the right question. When a problem keeps getting worse despite all the intelligent insights, money, and time that has been spent, it may be that the questions being asked are not adequate. Instead of asking ourselves “how can we help the homeless?” we may need to ask ourselves “Are all people capable of being helped?” 

Joey Mcgeough

Joey McGeough

Joey is one of our group facilitators at Together We Can. He enjoys co-operating in large groups, working towards a shared goal of recovery. His battle with addiction and work background in customer service help him relate to the struggle clients are experiencing and to communicate the solution effectively. Fun fact: He loves to iron clothes and sing - at the same time!