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Opioids remain bigger threat in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside than COVID-19: Vancouver Mayor

Last Updated Apr 8, 2020 at 6:49 pm PDT

FILE - Advocates say even hundreds of hotel rooms are not going to do much to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the Downtown Eastside, given there are thousands living on the streets. (Photo by Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)
Summary

16 overdose deaths have been recorded in the Downtown Eastside over the past two weeks

Despite the recent introduction of a safe drug supply, Stewart says other levels of government need to help

Stewart also adds helping people self-isolate in the downtown eastside community remains a challenge

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Vancouver’s mayor is reporting no COVID-19 outbreaks or clusters have been identified yet in the city’s most troubled neighbourhood.

However, Kennedy Stewart says 16 overdose deaths have been recorded in the Downtown Eastside over the past two weeks –bringing the total this year up to 50.

“We were in massive trouble there before the COVID-19 epidemic, so I’ll continue to press the federal and provincial governments, for example, more temporary modular housing which has proved so successful.”

Despite the recent introduction of a safe drug supply, Stewart says other levels of government need to keep that coming when the pandemic is over.

He adds helping people self-isolate in that community remains a challenge.

“There’s no point in giving somebody a ticket if they’re in that kind of situation, so enforcement can’t work. It has to be providing more space for these folks, but remember, we are talking about ten thousand people in and around the Downtown Eastside –many of whom suffer from addiction.”

On Wednesday, Stewart also asked the provincial government for up to 200-million dollars worth of emergency funding to keep essential services going during this crisis.

“We fund all the policing in our city, all our fire response, roads, and sewers and all those things that make our daily lives possible. We are bleeding money right now. I can’t wait a week and I think it’s important the Province knows our needs as soon as possible.”

Last week, 15-hundred workers were temporarily laid off and Stewart says, without support from the Province, more cuts are coming.

“Our resources at the city are stretched to the limit. We are bleeding money. In the worst-case scenario of this crisis stretching until the end of December, we expect a total budget impact of 189-million dollars –an equivalent to an extra 24% property tax increase.”

He says the city has been losing up to five million dollars every week since the pandemic took hold, so Vancouver can not afford to reduce or cancel this year’s approved tax hike of seven per cent.

City council will vote April 14th on a plan to postpone the property tax payment deadline from July to September.