Accusations fly over city’s plan for overdose crisis

“Nine people did die at the hands of a single person in the city of Vancouver in a single day, and that person was an elected official who chose not to take action.” This comment was dropped by Vision Vancouver’s Andrea Reimer at a recent meeting of council. She added, “Not to take action to prevent these deaths, they [elected officials] are in fact culpable in these deaths.” This jab across the council chamber by Reimer was clearly aimed at NPA councillor Melissa De Genova. Reimer proceeded to well up and choked back tears as she described what she saw as the gravity of the situation facing, in particular, First Nations women who stand a high risk of death by opioid overdose.It was just some of the high drama heard over the course of the recent standing committee on city finances, the low point of which was Coun. Reimer’s insinuation that her council colleague was culpable in the deaths caused by toxic amounts fentanyl or carfentanil.With Mayor Robertson inexplicably absent for the morning portion of the meeting, chair duties were conducted by Coun. Heather Deal. The Courier’s Mike Howell documented the dust-ups well in his own reports. The council video from the February 8th meeting is there for those who want to see the proceedings for themselves here and here. What was seemingly lost in this whole fractious affair is what exactly council was being asked to approve. In response to a staff report titled “Opioid Overdose Crisis Update,” Vancouver councillors were voting on two major expenditures related to the crisis in the Downtown Eastside.In both cases the money was being drawn from a hastily arranged 0.5 per cent tax increase that was approved in December to address the drug death epidemic.

The first expenditure for $220,000 was directed “towards peer based initiatives addressing impacts of the overdose crisis in single room occupancy (SRO) hotels and shelters.”

The second expenditure was for another $150,000 to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS) to enhance health and wellness supports for first responders.

In both cases, these expenditures are supposed to be “leveraged” against a $420,000 commitment by two provincial agencies — Vancouver Coastal Health and B.C. Housing.

Coun. George Affleck raised concerns about what he saw as an “ad hoc” plan by the city.

Deputy city manager Paul Mochrie was at the podium to answer council’s questions. Here’s how he explained the city’s plan for the funding allocation.

“As we’ve mapped out in the first presentation at your last meeting, there are a number of other items that we’re looking at for funding. Our focus for the last two weeks has been on these two items, as you can imagine, and we certainly heard the direction from council at the last meeting as well around focusing on frontline support, including peer support workers, so that is an issue now that we are going to turn our attention to. So there’s been a lot of discussion going on between our social policy group and those other partners —  institutions like Vancouver Coastal Health as well as nonprofits and other peer support — peoples with lived experience. The folks who are, as you noted, contributing in a really significant way to the response to this crisis. I think there are some challenging questions we would have to deal with about what the city’s role is there, but we’re certainly prepared to engage in that discussion and figure out what role the city could play that would add value, and come back with some recommendations on that. We hear that’s a priority.”

The VFRS funding is to hire a dedicated, full-time position to coordinate health and counselling support for fire fighters who might be susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder on the job.

No one would deny that taking care of our first responders is necessary and important, but it is, at most, an indirect way to respond to the struggles posed by the flows of illicit opioids on the streets.

Is the city’s plan ad hoc? Readers can decide for themselves based on the remarks by the deputy city manager.

Given the devastation caused by the opioid crisis, however, council’s histrionics accompanying this vote are nothing less than appalling.

Originally published by Vancouver Courier