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Posts Tagged "policy"

17Aug

How did we get here? Failed public policy and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside | CBC News

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Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has been the epicentre of homelessness and drug addiction in the province for decades. It has also been the focus of public policy to address these problems for almost as many years.

Yet for a neighbourhood in the public spotlight, a walk along East Hastings Street these days looks like policymakers have turned a blind eye. 

Mayor Kennedy Stewart recently acknowledged to Stepehn Quinn, the host of CBC’s The Early Edition, that the notorious neighbourhood is in the worst shape he has ever seen. Homelessness and open drug use are hard to miss on area streets. and people who have been on the front lines of housing, addiction and mental health programming say years of inadequate services are partly to blame.

Donald MacPherson, the former drug-policy coordinator for the City of Vancouver and current director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, has seen a lot of policies introduced into the Downtown Eastside, including the highly-lauded Vancouver Agreement in 2000.

The Oppenheimer Park homeless camp on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Signed by all three levels of government, the agreement was a 10-year plan to improve housing and social welfare in the area. According MacPherson, many of the agreement’s initiatives “came to a crashing end when the Harper Government was elected and did not participate.”

“A well thought-out strategy to provide supportive housing, mental health and addiction treatments city-wide, to provide harm reduction services city-wide, never really actualized,” said MacPherson.

Today, the concentration of homeless people on the streets and in Oppenheimer Park’s tent city shows the problems the Vancouver Agreement intended to fix are far from solved.

 Retired politician Libby Davies, a former city councillor and NDP member of Parliament for Vancouver East who was the federal housing critic, has seen a lot of housing ideas come and go.

 “If you can’t have a sustainable program — and that’s critical for housing —  and if you don’t have the partnership of the federal government … it creates a dire, serious situation.”

Protesters at the intersection of Main and Hastings Street calling for affordable housing in August 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

After the Vancouver Agreement, Davies said the federal government was notably absent from housing initiatives. 

“We had this huge gap where nothing was happening, because the federal government had opted out of and completely abandoned building new social housing,” said Davies. “We’re still recovering from that.”

In 2017, the federal government announced a 10-year multibillion-dollar national housing strategy. Davies hopes it is more than lip service.

“Big announcements are one thing, but getting the money, shovels in the ground … this is what’s urgently needed right now,” said Davies.

A police car cruises an alley on the Downtown Eastside. (Rafferty Baker/CBC News)

Dr. John Miller, former B.C. provincial health officer, said modular housing is one step in helping the homeless and precariously housed, but without “wrap-around’ support services for mental health and addiction, chaos will continue.

He said when Riverview Hospital closed in the 1970s many patients from the  mental health facility gravitated to the DTES and policymakers planned to put mental health services in the community.

“The second step never happened and still hasn’t happened,” said Miller. “Mental health services, addiction services, physical disability services, all of these things need to be there, and we haven’t really put them in place thoroughly yet.”

MacPherson, author of the city’s Four Pillars Drug Strategy, which is based on the principals of harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement, said the strategy was “never really implemented” and addicts are not getting the help they need.

“We keep propping up this failed drug policy that we have in Canada that continues to criminalize vulnerable people, push them into the shadows and make them the target of the problem,” said MacPherson.

The Vancouver Agreement signed in 2000 by all three levels of government was a 10-year plan to improve housing and social welfare on the Downtown Eastside that the city’s then drug policy co-ordinator says never really materialized. (Rafferty Baker/CBC News)

3Jul

Policy changes put people first

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For people struggling with poverty, small changes can make a big difference.

The first of a series of policy updates by the Government of British Columbia will remove barriers and make it easier for people to get help when they need it most.

The policy changes that came into effect on July 1, 2019, were the focus of a roundtable discussion that Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, hosted with poverty reduction stakeholders and advocates.

“Reducing poverty is about more than broad strokes and big system changes,” said Simpson. “It is also about looking closely at existing policies that, while smaller in scope, can make a lasting impact on the life of British Columbians. It’s about asking ourselves whether these often longstanding policies are helping or harming people. These policy changes, as well as additional changes we will make later this year, are a move away from the mean-spirited policies of the past and toward increasing respect, dignity and opportunity for everyone.”

The updated Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction policies include:

  • decreasing work searches from five weeks to three weeks;
  • ending penalties for families providing room and board to a family member;
  • expanding access to the identification supplement;
  • expanding access to and simplifying the application process for the Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers category;
  • eliminating the “transient” client category;
  • removing the $10,000 asset limit on a primary vehicle;
  • increasing asset limits for people on income assistance; and
  • expanding the moving supplement for people to move anywhere in B.C.

When people cannot afford to obtain personal identification or are required to sell their vehicle to get onto assistance, they face additional and unnecessary barriers. These types of harmful policies get in the way of accessing services like banking, health services, housing, food, school and/or completing daily tasks, like driving to school or work. These simple and supportive changes will allow people to access essential services and keep them from falling further and further behind.

The changes are part of TogetherBC, B.C.’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy. The name TogetherBC reflects the most effective way to reduce poverty in B.C.: strong partnerships with government, non-profits, businesses, First Nations and Indigenous organizations and communities will help reach the people who need assistance most. These changes came from conversations with non-profit organizations, advocates and people with lived experience that illustrated the harmful impact these policies had on the people they were supposed to support.

If people do not have their basic needs met, it is almost impossible to put together other pieces like health, education and employment. Breaking the cycle of poverty is about updating existing policies and creating new ones that rebuild a strong system of supports and services. These changes are part of a larger shift in government to a culture built on empathy and inclusion — one that puts people first.

Quotes:

Trish Garner, community organizer, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) —

“Our income support system should be there when any one of us may need it, just like our public health care, so measures to reduce barriers to access are a move in the right direction. On behalf of the BCPRC, we congratulate the government for these small changes, which signal a culture shift at the ministry, and we hope to see more of these changes in the future to move from a punitive to a supportive approach. Increasing the asset limit, including for cars, will help people transition back off the system by not plunging them into a deep hole just to access support. We will continue to push for meaningful increases in the rates to complement these measures and rebuild our social safety net.”

Jonny Morris, chief executive officer, Canadian Mental Health Association of BC (CMHA BC) —

“CMHA BC welcomes the recently announced changes to B.C.’s Employment and Assistance Regulations that came into effect on July 1. Removing the financial penalty for adults living with parents will benefit people with mental health and substance use problems whose parents may be key sources of inclusion and support. The elimination of discriminatory eligibility criteria that barred people with substance use related health issues from accessing some benefits is a welcome change that ends a longstanding and harmful approach. These changes and others will provide people experiencing mental health and substance use related health issues with improved access to existing income and disability assistance benefits, which we know supports their well-being.”

Doug King, executive director, Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) —

“On behalf of TAPS, this is an important first step in restoring the income and disability assistance process with dignity for all applicants. We’re very happy to see important changes to the moving supplement in the midst of a housing a crisis in British Columbia. It’s important for low-income British Columbians to have the support of the ministry when they find themselves in transition or without a home. We are looking forward to more changes in the future, so that this process can be made more fair and accessible.”

Learn More:

For a detailed description of each policy, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2019SDPR0047-001258

Read TogetherBC: British Columbia’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/poverty-reduction-strategy


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17Jun

Policy changes help break the cycle of poverty

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On July 1, 2019, the following policy changes take effect to help build a better B.C. for vulnerable British Columbians, making life more affordable and supporting them to overcome social and economic barriers:

Reducing access times: The work-search period will be reduced from five weeks to three weeks, while returning applicants will continue to complete the three-week work search. These changes do not impact applicants who are already exempt from work search requirements.

Ending penalties for families providing room and board to a family member: Clients who pay room and board to a parent or child while on income assistance currently do not receive the same level of benefits as those in private room and board situations. Now, families will be allowed to receive up to the full room and board payments (i.e., support and shelter allowance) when providing room and board to an adult child or parent on assistance, without a financial penalty, similar to those living in a private room and board situation.

Expanding access to the ID supplement: The identification supplement is available to individuals, through hardship assistance, to ensure they can meet the ministry’s identification eligibility requirements when applying for assistance. The supplement is being extended to all income and disability assistance clients, in addition to hardship assistance clients, to ensure they can continue to meet ministry eligibility requirements and/or access other important services within British Columbia (e.g., BC Services Card, banking, community services and programs).

Expanding access and simplifying the application process for the persons with persistent multiple barriers (PPMB) category: Expanding access to the PPMB category by removing restrictions that required people first be on income assistance for 12 out of 15 months and prevented access for people with addictions. The application process has also been simplified for clients and staff.

Elimination of the “transient” category: Eliminating the “transient” category to ensure persons without a fixed address, no dependent children and who are not considered to be taking up permanent residence in the community, are eligible to receive the same supports as other people on income assistance.

Allowing people to keep their vehicles: The $10,000 asset exemption limit on a primary vehicle will be removed for people on income assistance, allowing all clients to keep their primary vehicle, regardless of value, without impact to their assistance.

Higher asset limits: Asset limits for people on income assistance will be increased from $2,000 to $5,000 for a single person and from $4,000 to $10,000 for couples and one or two parent families, allowing people on income assistance to keep more of their money and build their assets.

Making relocating easier: Expanding the moving supplement for moves anywhere in B.C. when clients are moving to lower-cost housing or are evicted for any reason (including lawful and unlawful evictions and the existing circumstances of rented accommodation being sold, demolished or condemned). The expanded supplement will also assist with storage costs, if necessary, to preserve the family’s personal belongings while they are moving. Clients will also be supported when they incur moving costs prior to receiving ministry approval in exceptional circumstances.

Expanding access to nutritional supplements: Registered dietitians, as well as medical doctors and nurse practitioners, will be able to submit documentation on behalf of their patients for all nutritional supplements, including all diet supplements (including the high-protein diet), the monthly nutritional supplement, short-term nutritional supplement, tube feed supplement and infant formula supplement.


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11Jun

City council expected to debate policy preventing legal weed sales in DTES

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The debate on a motion proposing easier access for opioid alternatives in the city’s Downtown Eastside is expected to begin again Wednesday, when Vancouver city council meets to discuss policy and strategic priorities.

Submitted by Coun. Rebecca Bligh in late May, the motion titled “Cannabis as an Alternative to Opiates and More Dangerous Drugs on the Downtown Eastside” proposes amending an almost four-year-old exclusion zone keeping medical marijuana from being sold to one of the city’s most vulnerable communities.

“What I’m asking is well-considered exceptions to that rule, and that city staff come back and make recommendations to council,” Bligh told CTV News Vancouver in an interview Tuesday.

Vancouver’s city council approved a restrictive licensing regulation for “medical-cannabis” dispensaries in the Downtown Eastside in 2015, prohibiting marijuana sales on any properties that do not have a property line on either Hastings or Main streets.

In her motion, Bligh suggests the idea behind this exclusion zone was to limit the amount of cannabis being sold to a significantly vulnerable subset of the population. This decision was made before the opioid crisis set in however, and since April 2016, the councillor says more than 3,600 people have died in B.C. due to overdose, including 1,000 people in Vancouver alone.

“I don’t propose this is the right time to simply dismiss the exclusionary zoning, even though studies show in North America exclusionary zoning … it’s just not the best way to go about city planning,” said Bligh.

The councillor cites a study by University of British Columbia cannabis science specialist Dr. M-J Milloy, which showed hard drug users respond better to marijuana than opioid substitution treatment plans.

“We’re hearing form frontline workers and they’re dealing day to day with what’s happening in the Downtown Eastside, and I’ve heard from countless people that this is absolutely something we need to be taking proactive action on,” she said.

As it stands, there are four locations in the DTES with approved Development Permits from the city. Bligh contends, however, that in order to move forward with the mandatory provincial licensing application phase, they would need to shut down with no guarantee they’d be able to re-open. 

The councillor says the city should acknowledge the research done and funded by UBC and Simon Fraser University to ensure policies aren’t restricting a “progressive program” that could help people in the Downtown Eastside.

Referring to Milloy’s research, Bligh says shutting down those shops in the Downtown Eastside would limit people’s ability to access affordable legal marijuana, which could result in them turning back to opioids.

She adds that before the legalization process took hold,  a medicinal cannabis shop was able to sell at prices between three and six dollars per gram, which she says is affordable for people on disability or social assistance programs.

“As the recreational use of cannabis and the licensing that goes with that comes into effect, so does management of the supply chain, and management of the margins,” said Bligh. “Now we’re looking at these shops opening up and their market value for cannabis is now $12-15 per gram, which is totally unaffordable for people on limited income.”

This could effectively rob DTES residents and drug users of access to retail cannabis for the foreseeable future, the councillor claims.

The motion argues that both the Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society and High Hopes Social Enterprise, a DTES support and sustainability organization, support low-cost, legal cannabis options backed by Dr. Evan Wood, the executive director of the BC Centre on Substance Use, as well as Dr. Mark Tyndall, Executive Medical Director for BC Centre for Disease Control, and Dr. M-J Milloy.

Bligh said she believes the city and Vancouver Coastal Health have an opportunity to good for a large group of people working together, however admitted it could be difficult for the health organization to endorse a motion that affects a smaller, yet high-need group of the population.

“Evidence is leaning towards this as a viable recommendaiton and option towards harm reduction, but this would be far too soon for Coastal Health to eb able to bless that, and we deeply respect the work they do,” the councillor said.


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16Nov

Arbitrator orders immediate freeze to ‘unreasonable’ Interior Health addictions policy

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Interior Health’s policy for handling hospital employees with addiction problems is discriminatory and must be suspended immediately, a labour arbitrator has ruled.

Arbitrator John Hall ordered Interior Health to amend several sections of the current substance use disorder policy, describing them as serious flaws in a ruling Tuesday.

“When the policy as a whole is scrutinized more closely — and especially as its practical application was explained and examined in general terms at arbitration — there are a number of shortcomings. Suffice it to say that several elements of the policy have been found to be unreasonable,” Hall wrote.

The ruling was issued in response to a grievance filed by the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU), which represents about 8,000 workers in hospitals, clinics and care homes in the Interior Health region. The workers include clerical, housekeeping, laundry and food services staff.

Mal Griffin, Interior Health’s vice president of human resources, mental health and substance use, said he was pleased that the ruling upheld most elements of the policy.

“From time to time, it’s appropriate for us to review our policies, and he’s identified some really good opportunities for us to look at how we’ve been implementing the policy and some of the aspects of the policy,” Griffin told CBC.

He said, however, that health authority officials are still reviewing the ruling to decide if they should appeal.

Several changes mandated

Nonetheless, the arbitrator’s ruling amounts to a major overhaul of the current policy and a hopeful sign for other health-care workers pushing for change in how addictions are handled at work.  

Hall said Interior Health can no longer automatically put employees on leave when someone is suspected of having a substance use problem. Right now, people are taken off the job even if their work hasn’t been affected and no matter where the allegations come from.

And Hall said employees shouldn’t be forced to see the addictions specialists chosen by their bosses — if an independent medical exam is needed, the workers must be able to choose from a list of acceptable doctors.

Hospital employees must have a choice in which addictions specialist they see, the arbitrator said. (Shutterstock)

Other necessary amendments include ensuring the policy only applies to employees with severe addictions, new measures to protect workers’ private medical information from their bosses, and restrictions on when a worker’s belongings can be searched.

Hall went on to say that if an employee returns to work after treatment, the health authority can only demand drug testing if there is reasonable suspicion of a relapse.

He said the health authority must consult in good faith with the union for at least 90 days to resolve the problems with the current policy.

Similar grievances filed across B.C.

The HEU said it has filed grievances against every single health authority in the province over similar addiction policies. Those grievances were put on hold pending the outcome of the dispute with Interior Health, and the union said it’s ready to proceed with them if similar changes aren’t made across the board.

HEU’s complaints closely mirror that of Byron Wood, a former Vancouver nurse who has been battling a similar policy that cost him his job five years ago.

Byron Wood lost his job as a nurse after refusing to continue with daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. (Bethany Lindsay/CBC)

Wood says the mandatory 12-step program he was required to attend for treatment of his alcoholism didn’t work for him, and when he requested an alternative, he was refused. He asked to be referred to a new doctor, but his union told him it only uses addictions specialists who require attendance at AA.

On Thursday, Wood said he was encouraged by the ruling, but he believes much more still needs to change.

“I hope that the decision encourages all employers, including the respondents in my case and the College of Nurses and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, to reflect on their own substance use polices,” Wood told CBC News.

“People with substance use problems should be treated compassionately, and offered science-based treatments.”

Wood is currently awaiting the outcome of a complaint he filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, alleging he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of religion and mental disability.


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