This is an account of facts, figures and statistics proving that Victoria is losing their city to mental illness, addiction and homelessness. The social decay has impacted the economical, public services and affordable housing into a tailspin. Open drug use, panhandling and tent cities in Beacon Hill Park are just the start. There are 1,242 homeless or unstably housed people in Victoria. Out of the 815 surveyed, 48% said they had drug or alcohol issues, 42% are mental ill and 27% stated they suffered from both. There are between 1,500 to 2,000 injection drug users in Greater Victoria, 72% have Hepatitis C and 17% have HIV. There are between 600 to 800 crystal meth users in the region. The homeless count will double by the year 2010 if there is no assertive action to ease these conditions. The Greater Victoria Coalition Society to End Homelessness Society was formed in 2008. They received a great solution on paper, but have had troubles receiving federal, provincial and public support to make things happen. The public has been ill informed causing hostile opposition against innovative new projects to address these problems. Awareness and education is the key.
Introduction Victoria, B.C. in Canada is known for its picturesque scenery, warm weather and great shops. It is a politician’s and policymaker’s dream come true. The Victoria Downtown core is also known for its mentally ill, addicts and homeless people. This is a good place for them to congregate in business doorways and alleys of this great city. There are 1,242 homeless people in the Capital Regional District, as counted in February 2007. Of the 815 surveyed, 48% were reported to be active in their addiction. 42% stated they had a mental illness and 27% said they had both. The homeless population growth is at 30%, compounded each year by inadequate housing stock and support. This number can double by 2010. Is this a coincidence? With the Winter Olympic Games coming to Vancouver in 2010, it seems that all three levels of government are in a big huff to clean up the streets for the tourists and visitors. Mental illness, addiction and homelessness have been overlooked for decades. Why the big panic now? This has been a crisis situation for years and nothing was done. There were facility closures, budget cuts and lack of funding for the mental health and addiction field. It seems that this new action is not a humane decision, but about dollars and cents. There is a fast-tracked plan for a “Safe Downtown” strategy. Already one prominent panhandler may face jail time for his “in your face” style of begging. The mayor’s project of providing housing and support for 1,550 homeless people within 5 years has already placed 177 of the most vulnerable in homes. The “Housing First” philosophy seems to be nothing much more than sweeping the dirt under the carpet. Removing them from the downtown core and relocating them into someone else’s backyard seems to be a familiar pattern. Downtown Victoria is becoming safer, but for who? Is it for us or the tourists with their fat wallets? The mayor’s plan is supposed to be providing additional support to those being placed in housing. This is a tall order. “Wet” housing causes a lot of trouble. How do you expect a hardened drug addict or alcoholic to change their ways because an offer is on the table? This just relocates the problem to a particular address. It takes a lifetime of determination and hard work to beat addiction. A number of these people are not interested or able to make those choices at this time. With this housing project, many are incapable of maintaining themselves or a home that is unsupervised. One may expect discarded drug paraphernalia, garbage and an increased crime rate in the neighborhood. There may be an increased rate of emergency services to these buildings, possibly increased loitering and vandalism. This support will have to be in-depth, guiding these people on a one on one basis. Support workers will have very busy schedules keeping up with demands at these complexes. There will be (ACT) Assertive Community Treatment to ensure that these people have their needs met. Outreach programs and out-patient care are essential to the plan’s success. It costs the taxpayer over $50,000.00 per homeless person in the Capital Regional District for one year of related services. It is cheaper to house and support a mentally ill, addicted, and homeless person than it is to do nothing. In Canada it costs $14.4 billion a year on mental illness and is over 18 billion if you add addiction. In the period of 40 months, there have been 23,033 police encounters. In the Greater Victoria Area, over twenty service providers have spent an estimated $76 million annually on mental illness, addiction and homelessness. By not addressing these issues, we are at least spending $62 million in other services such as policing, prisons, hospital services, emergency shelters, clean up, etc. The cost of services for this marginalized group is 33% higher than housing and providing support. This has been known since 2001 and nothing has been done about it until now. If funds were redirected to the appropriate areas, the cost of related services would decrease. 92% of our prison population is mentally ill. Half of them have addiction problems. They are warehoused in prison because there are no medical facilities available to accommodate them properly. Most offences would never had been committed if they were treated medically as an out-patient for drugs, alcohol and mental illness. They are being punished for the results of a medical condition. These prisons are ill equipped or trained to handle them properly. When an inmate becomes disgruntled or unresponsive to orders due to illness, they are put in solitary confinement. There, they become depressed, psychotic or suicidal. The housing project is needed and is welcomed by those in the mental health, addictions and housing of the homeless, but stops short of public applause. Much of society does not understand the cost effectiveness of housing and support of these people. Many people feel cheated that they have to work very hard to keep the homes they have and put food on the table. Yet handouts are given to drug addicts and alcoholics who self–induced their situation, and just have to sit on the street with their palm out and receive a home. This does anger a lot of people who ask why they should work if they can receive similar benefits for doing nothing. We must provide awareness that this plan is not only cost effective in saving millions of dollars; it will also have many benefits for all Victorians to gain in other related areas of service. The streets will be safer and more pleasant to use even at night. Although the question why now bothers people, at least it is being taken care of in an assertive fashion. We are in crisis and the time for action is now. Many of the reports that the mayor received did not include the prison system statistics for it seems that government still supports this form of discrimination against the mentally ill and/or addicted. It is easier to charge and incarcerate them for petty offences than to treat them for their addiction. Until now, there have been many obstacles in trying to receive treatment for mental illness and/or addiction. There are no bulletin boards or advertisements of these services. Many people do not know they exist unless they are already in the system. They are hidden usually away behind unmarked office doors. For those who are not in the system, finding help is most difficult especially for those on the street. We are only the third city in Canada to adopt such a plan to house and support those in need. Recently in the paper, it was reported that we may see a significant jump in taxes next year due to the social concerns of the city, including hiring 19 new guns and batons to cure a medical condition. Out-patient services would ease concerns on the street related to mental illness and/or addiction by administering prescribed medication and professional services. Happy and content people don’t use drugs or alcohol. Outreach programs will become the way of the future to support people with these conditions. There are a few specific groups with outreach programs right now which are proving to be more effective than office visits. The aid is directed to the street where the people are. They meet on their turf and provide personal support tailored to their specific needs. This aid is directed straight to the heart of the matter. One in ten people will suffer mental illness at least once in their lifetime. That means that there are high chances that someone in your family or social circle suffers from one or both conditions. Mental illness and/or addiction affect all of us either directly or indirectly. Whole communities are overwhelmed by these growing conditions. It is in our best interest to invest in our community and solve this problem at the roots. It seems that the mayor’s office wants a permanent solution to this situation, and is not just looking for a way of controlling it. It has to be an assertive,
Patrick J. Schnerch advocates for those living with mental illness, addiction and homelessness. He does this through his literature. He provides awareness and education in hopes of reducing discrimination against our marginalized population. Having successfully beaten his own demons from over twenty-five years of absolute turmoil, he decided to give back to the community that stood by him in his darkest moments. Schnerch volunteers to related organizations in hopes of helping Victoria's most vulnerable. By introducing awareness and education about these conditions to the city, he hopes that Victoria can work and learn from each other and conclude a solution.