Change Can Happen. Episode #6: An update on the opioid crisis in Vancouver's DTES

A multi-part series produced by Central City Foundation, “Change Can Happen” explores community-led programs, initiatives and ideas from our inner city that are helping to build a resilient, caring and inclusive community where it is possible for all people to overcome injustice, participate and thrive.

Six years into this public health emergency, Central City Foundation spoke with our community partners to help provide a much-needed update on the impacts of the unregulated, toxic drug supply and ensuing overdose crisis on our inner city community. We are increasingly struggling with a political narrative that reduces our friends and neighbours to the problems and challenges they face. For over a century, Central City Foundation has helped advance our collective compassion for the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children and elders in our inner-city community who are struggling to survive. We hope this update, seen through the eyes of our community partners who live it every day, will help build the compassion and collective will needed to respond to the opioid crisis in a meaningful way. Please share this video with your family, your friends, and your co-workers. Because what is clear is that change can only happen when we all work together.

The opioid crisis

It’s been almost 2,800 days since the Province of British Columbia declared a public health emergency due to the toxic, unregulated, illicit drug supply. Since then, more than 14,013 people have died. These 14,013 people are our friends, family members and co-workers. These 14,013 people are smart, funny, generous individuals with gifts to share. These 14,013 people loved and were loved.

We heard the call from our community partners

As part of our ongoing commitment to do things differently, Central City Foundation is committed to ensuring the voices of our community partners are heard. The most powerful change will come from community-led solutions, and these changes can’t happen alone. While interviewing our community partners, we spoke to people providing services all along the continuum of care. We repeatedly heard about the importance of options, wrap-around support systems, and innovative harm reduction services. “There’s always hope when there’s breath in the body,” Jennifer Humchitt, Support Worker, Central City Housing Society.

How we can come together to help make change?

Central City Foundation believes that we, as a broad community, need to regain our collective humanity. We need to develop a better understanding of the intersecting challenges that have created the current climate in the DTES, where an unregulated, toxic drug supply can take so many lives. We understand that investing in community-led solutions to address each complex social barrier is how we will move our community forward. We believe that, together, we can make change happen and build a healthier community. Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned addiction expert, calls on all of us to take a compassionate approach toward addiction, whether in ourselves or others. Dr. Maté believes “the source of addictions is not to be found in genes, but in childhood trauma and in stress and social dislocation endemic to systems of inequality and injustice.”

We have witnessed the very real, damaging impacts of trauma in our community, and we have seen the daily efforts of our community partners to provide avenues to healing and well-being, all while continuing to see ongoing government underfunding of essential community-based services.

In the media, we have watched a dehumanizing narrative develop about the people who continue their struggle to survive in our inner city. Central City Foundation works every day to combat that narrative and invest in the people and organizations that are helping people in the inner city improve their lives.

Together, we need to continue to support the efforts of our community partners to meet the critical needs of our neighbours in the inner city. We believe that through compassion and kindness, we can connect as human beings to the people who live in our city and who “in addition to social justice, just need a little mercy,” according to our late friend Ken Lyotier.

There have been tremendous possibilities in the inner city since the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations have come together to support each other to advocate collectively for changes to systems that prevent people from moving out of survival mode and into places of healing. Through 116 years of working with people in our inner city, Central City Foundation has come to understand that change can happen. People in the inner city can improve their lives. They just need their basic human needs secured. They need a safe roof over their head. They need food in their belly. They need a way to earn some income. They need access to non-judgemental healthcare and mental health supports. They need access to culturally appropriate services. And they need options when it comes to the unregulated toxic drug supply, including treatment, a safe supply of drugs, and everything in between.

Please join us as we continue to invest in essential community-led solutions and provide support for our incredible community partners. Make a gift to the Central City Foundation today. Your donation will help people in the inner city improve their lives.