Deputy Premier Rich Coleman (left) has carried the housing file through a variety of ministries over more than 10 years. He's pushing 'low barrier' housing now.

BC VIEWS: Alternatives to drug ghettos

Rich Coleman expands supports for street drug addicts where they gather, instead of offering them a way out

My recent columns on B.C.’s struggle with the growing westward migration of transients have produced responses that fall mainly into two groups.

The largest is people relieved that somebody is questioning the urban media narrative. That’s the one where drifters, drug addicts, welfare shoppers and thieves are the victims, and working people whose hard-earned communities are being degraded are the problem because of their selfish, uncaring attitudes.

Then there are readers so marinated in our nanny-state education, media and political system they object to anything other than a big-government response. They tend to ask, what’s your solution, Tom?

As someone who has lost one relative to heroin addiction and almost lost another, I reflect on the history of successful addiction treatment. That is one of detox and abstinence.

That’s why I oppose the failed model of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where resources are poured into concentrated housing and “harm reduction” that perpetuate addiction, handouts and helplessness. Housing Minister Rich Coleman is rolling this out in other communities, in what I fear is an effort to paper over the problem for an election year.

The Globe and Mail recently profiled a methamphetamine addict enrolled at Onsite, the belated treatment addition to Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection site. It was his fifth try, which may have something to do with the fact that when he walks outside he is in the middle of Canada’s biggest street drug bazaar.

Contrast that with a facility called Baldy Hughes, a therapeutic community 30 km outside Prince George. It’s a working farm, designed to provide a year-long program of abstinence-based therapy and meaningful work.

It uses the traditional 12-step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, with peer support and group therapy.

There’s a greenhouse for winter farming, livestock to tend and the residents have designed and built a new horse stable. There’s also a beekeeping project. Residents can complete their high school education, take first aid training and learn basic computer skills.

What they can’t do is leave unescorted during their treatment program. They can’t bring drugs, alcohol, weapons or phones with them.

It’s a costly program, with a small number of spaces available on referral from B.C.’s social development ministry. Others can finance it with the help of medical employment insurance.

I mention this not to suggest it is a solution for every community, but to compare it with what the B.C. government is spending millions on.

A news event was arranged to greet the first resident moving from Victoria’s squalid downtown tent camp to a refurbished nursing home. And who was the poster child for this project, hand-picked by the agency that runs the growing network of shelters in the area?

He described himself as a former Edmonton resident who was hitch-hiking around, going from shelter to shelter and ending up camped in the squat. He was impressed by the tidy room with three meals a day he was being given, in a “low barrier” facility where booze and drugs are brought in, no questions asked.

What he was really looking forward to, in addition to accommodations, was an opportunity to kick back and play his favourite video game. That would be Grand Theft Auto, where your character runs around stealing cars, escaping police and meeting with criminal gangs. It’s popular with adolescents, which these days means anyone under 30.

This is where your tax dollars are going. Waves of people come in, with key trouble spots being communities on the major highways coming into the Lower Mainland.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

Victoria police are searching for a suspect after a stabbing Monday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police searching for suspect in late-night stabbing

Victim taken to hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries

Panthers’ Captain Tanner Wort faces Tory McClintick of the Victoria Cougars during Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League action Friday night at Panorama Recreation Centre. The Panthers lost 3-0, then lost 7-2 Sunday. (Gordon Lee/Submitted)
Peninsula Panthers’ losing streak reaches four games as injuries mount

Injuries have especially hurt the team’s backline with only four defenders available

The drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Island Health opens COVID-19 testing site at UVic

As with all other sites, an appointment is needed to receive a test

Thousands filled Centennial Square in June for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)
Survey seeks input on racism in Greater Victoria

Confidential answers to inform work with immigrants and marginalized people

Carolyn and Steve Touhey came across a pod of humpback whales while on their boat Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo supplied
VIDEO: Boaters encounter pod of humpbacks in Georgia Strait

Pod spotted between Comox and Texada Island

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

B.C.’s Court of Appeal is in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judgment reserved in Surrey Six slayings appeals

Six men were killed in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Most Read