Written for Daily Hive by Nicole Mucci of Union Gospel Mission
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that crises are colliding all around us. Urgent action is needed to combat historic levels of homelessness, COVID-19, an opioid epidemic, and destructive stigma surrounding addiction.
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These topics have dominated public debate for years, yet those who often have the most to lose are seldom given the chance to join the conversation. So, for this article, we at Union Gospel Mission decided to ask our community members to share what they think the next provincial government, whoever it is, must do to address homelessness and addiction.
Jennifer Allan – Downtown Eastside resident, formerly homeless:
Jennifer Allan is a fierce advocate for women after years in the Downtown Eastside. She was able to exit the survival sex trade and find recovery from addiction, and is now a community leader who provides street-level outreach to help others.
“People are in a place of basic survival. They need food, clothes, safety. They don’t think voting is going to change anything… Why would they if they don’t feel heard?
Look at the opioid crisis. We’ve had 1,000+ people die in seven months. That’s more than all of 2019. We need more detox centres now. Currently, there’s a waiting list. People can’t afford to wait for treatment because they are dying. We need detox on demand.
We need safe, affordable housing. We need more social housing that isn’t a crack shack.”
Harry - DTES resident, living in an SRO:
Harry’s passion for the community he’s been a part of for 30 years was evident as he spoke. Now housed, he’s struggled with homelessness and alcoholism in the past.
“So many people here don’t even vote. In other parts of the world, people die just for the opportunity to have a voice… What do I want to see?
I’d like to see the government make non-profit recovery centres a priority. It shouldn’t be an industry – it should help people. I’d like more accommodations for the homeless.”
Rene – UGM Guest:
As sharp as a tack, Rene was quick to share insight. While he echoed the need for more affordable housing, Rene was discouragingly skeptical that progress will be made due to years of feeling ignored.
“When it comes down to it, the [government] seems to forget the politics and do their best — that I give them credit for. But there’s a lot of BS.”
These comments from Rene show that the government “doing their best” isn’t good enough when the results aren’t preventing his friends from dying or providing enough safe, clean, affordable housing. In the DTES, positive change hasn’t come quickly enough. The pandemic has added new layers of chaos. People are falling between the cracks daily. Life on the street is grim, difficult and deadly.
UGM’s hot take:
There is some good news on homelessness to suggest progress can be made when it’s a priority. Since 2017, the BC government has pursued urgent construction of modular housing, adopted a plan to build 114,000 housing units within a decade, increased social assistance supports, and created a long-overdue poverty reduction strategy. This made an undeniable positive impact for thousands of our struggling neighbours, but unfortunately, this was all pre-pandemic. All of this progress risks being wiped out by COVID-19, as homelessness now surges at alarming levels. We call for further action to meet this extreme need:
- Double down on pandemic efforts to house our homeless neighbours in emergency supportive housing. We need to accelerate this policy of leasing and buying buildings, and make this a long term solution with full wraparound supports, like mental health, counselling, job training and more. Studies show these efforts will save lives (and tax dollars) in the long run.
- Increase mental health and addiction recovery support drastically so that those who are ready for recovery can access detox and recovery on demand.
- Accelerate efforts to build thousands of units of affordable housing.
- Crush stigma surrounding the opioid epidemic, which is killing more than five British Columbians every day. These are our neighbours who have a past and future.
- Connect with their municipal and federal counterparts to address the badly needed systemic and structural root causes of homelessness.
Our elected leaders need to fight with everything they have to save lives. They must elevate efforts at every level. But governments are only as active as the people who elect them. They won’t make addressing homelessness a higher priority until you do. Lives are at stake. Your vote could save them. Vote with homelessness in mind.
Union Gospel Mission is a charity transforming communities by overcoming poverty, homelessness and addiction – one life at a time. Find out how you can help here.