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Much more help needed on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, say groups

Last Updated Apr 9, 2020 at 10:54 pm PDT


More housing for women fleeing violence needed amid the COVID-19 crisis, advocates say

UBCIC has more than a dozen calls to action for province

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions to speak Thursday about additional measures

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Ahead of a planned announcement for more mental health and addictions support during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs has released a long list of needs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The letter comes as the CBC reports a positive case of the novel coronavirus has been identified at the Salvation Army’s Harbour Light transition house and treatment centre, which contradicts recent assurances from Vancouver’s mayor that no positive tests have come back.

The UBCIC says Indigenous people are disproportionately affected, as they make up a large percentage of the homeless population and deal with generations of trauma, poverty and mental health decline.

“Given the severity and lethality of this disease, we urgently call upon the Province to immediately expand efforts to stop or slow the potential transmission of COVID-19,” reads the open letter from the UBCIC, released Thursday.

“While the City of Vancouver’s deployment of hand sanitizing stations and increased sanitation and food delivery services in the DTES are steps forward in addressing this situation, we see the need for more broader, comprehensive and sustained actions that accurately reflect the reality and needs of DTES residents and that are issued from the provincial level.”

The BC Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors is also adding its voice to a growing list of advocates and legal experts demanding more help from all levels of government.

“Flattening the curve cannot be done without testing. It is imperative to triage resources to priority communities before outbreaks occur rather than simply react when they do,” says Erica Thompson with the Drug War Survivors.

“Vulnerable communities urgently need testing, resources for food, accommodation, and personal protective equipment for peer healthcare workers who risk their lives to help people stay safe.”

She says the lack of triage for the highly vulnerable population is shameful, adding, “As Canadians, we must do better.”

On Wednesday, the City of Vancouver requested $200-million in emergency funding to maintain essential services and support vulnerable communities, saying the city is losing millions of dollars in revenue each week.

The desperate need for shelters for women fleeing violence, masks and training on how to use them safely, free WiFi to access vital services, increased mobile medical units and protective gear for frontline workers co-exists with a desperate need for safe supply and shelter during ongoing drug and housing crises.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart has said in the last two weeks, 16 people have died of overdoses, with 50 deaths reported since January.

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

The city has installed a number of handwashing stations, secured hundreds of empty hotel rooms to help people isolate, and opened two downtown community centres for the same purposes.

While the efforts are appreciated in a trying and urgent crisis, advocates say so much more needs to be done to prevent a complete catastrophe from sparking in the neighbourhood and rippling throughout the city.

B.C.’s Mental Health and Addiction Minister Judy Darcy is expected to make an announcement just after 10 a.m. alongside Premier John Horgan.