Policing vs Health Management for Those at Risk in the Downtown Eastside

BCS is currently focused on advocating for adequate and appropriate supports for people with substance addictions exacerbated by trauma, head injury, and other mental health issues. We believe this group is perhaps 10% (or ~ 300) of the total homeless population in Vancouver. Because of the severity and complexity of their illnesses this is a group that consistently gets left behind and out of the formal system of housing and health care. Our goal is to decrease the human cost for people living with the above issues.

We acknowledge that there is, in addition, a real economic cost that comes with high incidents of police, criminal justice and emergency worker involvement. There is a dimension of lawlessness coupled with the consumption of street drugs, particularly attached to the brutal distribution networks, which also manifests in petty crime when people are desperate. But policing, as the prime response, has not worked to diminish the cost of service to, or reduce the use of substances by, this high need group. We’ve seen that attempts to control homelessness with force will result in similar failure, causing more stress than success.

Instead we suggest that mental health supports related to the treatment of drug dependency should be provided by health, housing and social service sectors supported by the police and criminal justice system. We believe each sector and institution has an important and specific role to play and that a close and transparent collaboration among all parts of the system is necessary. We further believe that a lack of housing removes the stability and security that is essential for successful treatment and management and that housing policy must be an integral part of treatment.

Many of the elements of the response BCS is advocating for will benefit not just the small percentage of the population who are struggling with severe health issues but also others at risk and in need of support and will allow for more effective distribution of resources across sectors.

Finding ways to support individuals with differing needs is complex in this complex situation. The BCS plan is specific, strategic, and constructive. The time to act is now.