DTES, elections, Human Rights, politics, Vancouver

How Vancouver’s supervised illegal drug injection site is winning the PR battle

Vancouver’s Insite is making headlines again as a new study shows it has slashed fatal overdoses in Canada’s poorest postal code. With the federal government’s appeal to be heard by the Supreme Court this May, the program’s future is once again in jeopardy. Here are my thoughts after visiting the controversial injection site.

Photos courtesy of Vancouver Coastal Health

After touring Insite this week it is clear the operators are doing their best to win over the hearts and minds of Canadians skeptical of the harm reduction approach to drug addiction.

First-time visitors immediately notice the cleanliness, professionalism and transparency of the supervised injection site. In the main room, stainless steel shelves form 12 open booths that together service up to 1,000 users a day. The smell of cleaning supplies wafts through the Spartan rooms as site manager Darwin Fisher holds court.

Fisher is passionate about giving the addicts of Canada’s poorest postal code a voice in their own recovery. This method of mitigating the harmful conditions surround their addiction, and then allowing them to get the treatment they need seems to be working.

A recent study released by the provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, pointed to harm reduction services like Insite as helping lower the rate of HIV infections among injection drug users.

In a news release about the report Kendall said, “The recent decline in new HIV cases is encouraging, especially since a significant decrease has been seen amongst vulnerable populations like those who use injectable drugs. This decrease is more proof that Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy and other harm reduction services are working and should be expanded.”

In fact, every empirical study of infection rates among the people in the Downtown Eastside has come out in favour of Insite and its work. When talking to the media, Fisher wields these numbers like a sword in the face of a federal government hell-bent on shutting the service down.

Insite is as transparent as an entity run by three separate bodies can be. It is this transparency and an emphasis on empirical data that has been more effective in swaying public and political opinion than any preaching about the horrible circumstances of these addicts ever could.

Most taxpayers do not want to hear about the sad tales of abuse and trauma that precede a person’s gradual descent into the hell of addiction. What is much more important is the amount of money it costs to get a person off the street and into treatment. The amount of money it costs to process and care for a person with a skin infection from shooting up in the dank, dark and dirty alleyways of the Downtown Eastside.

Concrete numbers about the amount of money it is saving taxpayers are the best way Insite can gain further support, and perhaps one day expand their brand of harm reduction nationwide.

It may be a callous way to reach out for support, but Insite’s advocates know its $3 million annual oprating budget is miniscule compared to the overalls of illegal drug use.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse found, in a 2002 study, abuse of illegal druges like heroin cost Canadians $8.2 billion annually. Along with alcohol and tobacco, illegal drug abuse cost taxpayers $8.8 billion in health care and $5.4 billion in policing this abuse.

Former mayor Larry Campbell helped get the initiative off the ground, and ever since these positive numbers have come in, civic and provincial politicians have taken note. Today, these politicians are loath to criticize Insite’s effectiveness in curbing infection and costly health problems in drug-addicted people.

Federally, things are much different. Initially the Martin government begrudgingly supported the facility, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has fought tooth and nail to stop the money flow.

In order to fully understand the work of Insite, Harper should heed last year’s call of the B.C. Nurses’ Union and visit the facility himself.

Then, and only then, can he pass judgment on its role in Canadian society.

population, Vancouver

B.C.’s ‘Big Ones’ : a survey of recent earthquakes

The last tsunami to hit B.C. encountered much less infrastructure

The waves crashed through their houses as they frantically awoke and tried to escape. Moments earlier, the shaking was so vicious people lay on the ground, nauseous. The 9.0 magnitude offshore quake decimated the coastal community, leaving no survivors.

Through oral histories we know the indigenous people of Pachena Bay on Vancouver Island’s southwest coast were completely wiped out by the Jan. 26, 1700 quake. Recently unearthed imperial documents confirm the resulting tsunami also wreaked havoc across the Pacific on the people of Japan.

B.C.’s last ‘big one’ occurred over 300 years ago, and seismologists say the province is due for another in the next two hundred years.

The B.C. coast experiences over 1,200 earthquakes a year and six out of Canada’s 10 biggest recorded quakes have happened in the region.

The 1700 quake and was very similar in strength to last week’s 8.9 magnitude quake near Japan, but B.C. has also seen other major quakes in its more recent history.

Canada’s second-biggest recorded quake happened off the coast of Haida Gwaii in 1949. A magnitude of 8.1, it was strong enough to tip cows on Haida Gwaii and be felt as far away as Seattle. Across the Hecate Strait in Prince Rupert buildings swayed and windows crashed down.

Though stronger than the 1906 quake that killed thousands and almost destroyed San Francisco, the Haida Gwaii quake didn’t kill anyone because the closest-hit areas had low population densities.

B.C.’s deadliest quake — also its biggest onshore earthquake in history — killed two people when it struck the middle of Vancouver Island during a Sunday morning on June 23, 1946.
The 7.3 magnitude quake generated a large wave that drowned one person on the coast in a capsized a boat and caused one person to die from a heart attack in faraway Seattle. The epicenter was just west of Courtenay and Campbell River and nearby communities suffered considerable structural damage.

Terrified Victoria and Vancouver residents ran into the streets as a number of chimneys there collapsed and people as far as Portland felt shaking.

The whole Pacific Northwest coast is a unique geographical region because it is one of the few places in the world where all three earthquake-causing movements can occur.

The tectonic plates of North America’s Pacific coast are constantly moving at about the same pace a fingernail grows.

B.C.’s earthquakes are caused by plates colliding, sliding past each other or moving apart.

B.C.’s biggest quakes in recent history:

  • 1700: Earthquake off west coast of Vancouver Island, decimated indigenous people of Pachena Bay and was recorded by Japanese imperial officials. Presumed scale: 9.0
  • 1949: Offshore of Haida Gwaii, this quake strong enough to tip over cows and be felt in Seattle. Scale: 8.1
  • 1970: South of Haida Gwaii, caused no known casualties. Scale: 7.4
  • 1946: Centre of Vancouver Island, largest onshore quake caused extensive damage to island communities and two deaths, one man died of a heart attack in Seattle. Scale: 7.3

These quakes were first recorded scientifically in 1898 by a seismograph placed in Victoria. By 1920, there were six seismograph locations throughout Canada.

National Resources Canada upgraded their network of seismographs in the ’90s and various universities also monitor separate seismographs.

By Mike Hager

politics, Vancouver

Vancouver School Board juggles elementary schools before new buildings ready


A new UBC elementary school will occupy portables on the site of a neighbouring elementary school until its proper building is completed in August 2013.

The Vancouver School Board gave the go ahead, last Monday, for the new Acadia Road school to enroll students and at portable classrooms on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth elementary.

The new school is meant to stem the overflow of University Hill elementary students who currently take the daily bus to Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and Southlands schools.

“I think it will support parents in the district and work for both schools,” said school board trustee Ken Clement. “I like the fact that we listened to the parents too.”

During the board’s consultation process, concerned Queen Elizabeth parents voiced their frustration from sharing their grounds the past two years with Ecole Jules Quesnel.

Parent Advisory Council representatives from Queen Elizabeth presented the board with a number of grievances regarding a further two years of sharing space with another school.

Jane Taylor, a Queen Elizabeth mother, said problems have arisen due to the overcrowding and there exists an “unhealthy competition and lack of sense of community amongst the student body.”

The parents proposed an additional vice principal for the new school in order to act as a liaison between the two schools and help foster a unique school culture.

“I think that the school community raised some legitimate concerns around both
wanting to support the idea of the trying to develop a school community for the
Acadia students, but also the importance of the need of having an administrator
for those students,” said school board trustee Jane Bouey.

“At the same time, that administrator being a part of a wider administrative team at Queen Elizabeth. So there’s better communication and less chance of misunderstanding.”

School board trustee Allan Wong said regarding the parents’ additional requests “Most importantly the doors for dialogue and change continues. The other issues such as extra playground supervisors may be included in the upcoming budget process or any time later.”

Ecole Jules Quesnel has been undergoing seismic upgrades during this period, and will soon vacate the Queen Elizabeth portables so the new start-up school can move in this September.

Board officials are predicting a much smoother relationship between the two schools sharing the same playground, lunchroom and schoolgrounds.

“There’ll be far less numbers,” said Henry Ahking, manager of facilities and development. Though a concrete student numbers for the new school won’t be available till registration this September, some prospective students are expected to remain at the schools they now bus to, where they will be grandfathered into the existing population.

The Acadia Road school will include kindergarten students from the UBC area as well as new students and U Hill overflow students who choose to attend.

School overcrowding is not normally an issue at Vancouver schools, earlier this year the school board contemplated closing several Eastside schools with declining enrolments.

The school board’s plan to institute mandatory full-day kindergarten for every elementary school in Vancouver has only added to the stress that will be put on these schools in the coming year of sharing the facilities.

city council, DTES, homelessness, Vancouver

>Obvious News: Vancouver will still have hundreds of homeless people in 2015


                                         Chris Huggins (Flickr)/photo

Planning department shows city still has considerable challenges if it wants make good on mayor’s promise to end homelessness in the next decade.

A new report from city hall says 450 new housing units are needed to end homelessness in Vancouver by 2015.

City Manager Penny Ballem’s report garnered praise from councillors during a festive Lunar New Year session. Only Coun. Suzanne Anton questioned the projected shortfalls and the secrecy of the report.

“To me, my conclusion [from the report] was that 450 units will solve homelessness in Vancouver. Well… no,” Anton said. “450 units will not solve homelessness.”

                 Thomas Quine (Flickr)/photo
The report projects – despite the city’s partnership with BC Housing creating 14 new supportive housing sites by 2012 – the city will still be short hundreds of units by 2015. This shortfall will increase 750 units by 2020 to a total of 1,200 units if additional housing is not provided.
“Elimination of homelessness is quite realistic, it could be rolled back province-wide by an investment equivalent to the new stadium roof — $568 million,” said Coun. Geoff Meggs. “All that’s missing is political will.”

Anton, the lone councillor outside of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s ruling coalition, believes these numbers are greatly undervalued.

“There’s about 7,000 built now, so there really needs to be 3,000 more to properly accommodate all the people who are living [downtown],” Anton said. “I think the mayor was looking for a real political solution to his election promise.”

Anton was also disappointed with lack of transparency in the report. “I thought it was a disgrace to democracy that it was brought in that forum so that nobody had any notice of it.

 Coun. Suzanne Anton
“It was a PowerPoint

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and council didn’t even have it in front of them. There was no opportunity to properly challenge it or question it or prod it or to see what it actually meant,” Anton said. “This mayor is famous for his disinterest in hearing from people. And presenting it in this way so nobody could address the subject was very odd indeed.”

Coun. Tim Stevenson thinks the report — on which the city will hear from the public and report back to council by the end of April — and its compiling of concrete numbers is another step in a larger process of understanding Vancouver’s homeless began by previous administrations.

“I’ve been awaiting this report for a number of years and it is excellent in my opinion,” Stevenson said. It will certainly lead us into the future.”

The report focused on mapping the city’s total homeless population, supportive housing and rental units. The report claimed only 10 per cent of Vancouver’s homeless — largely single men — come from other provinces, dispelling a popular myth that many migrate to get away from cold winters further East.

The Community Services department will conduct another count of the city’s homeless population Mar. 16, 2011, as part of its annual report card on the issue.

The report stressed the need for 12 to 15 more supportive housing sites to close the eventual 1,200-unit gap by 2020.

“There’s no question that the only way to get adequate housing is for senior levels of government to help with the funding,” Anton said. “The best housing is when there’s partnerships with the city — which is usually land and facilitation services — BC Housing non-profit groups and the province.

“That’s what puts housing together right now.”

The report can be found here : http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20110201/documents/HousingandHomelessnessStrategy.pdf