Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions

On Wednesday September 17th, CCAP and other members from the Downtown Eastside community went to City Hall to speak on the Task Force report (Report with Council Recommendations; Just the report).  The Report was eventually approved by Council (see minutes here).

Some of the speakers on that day:

– King-mong Chan:

Good afternoon Mayor and Council. My name is King-mong Chan.  We are standing here on the unceded Coast Salish territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations.

There is much concern in the community regarding this Task Force, its framework and ideology, and the recommendations arising from the Task Force.  Although there were a few low-income people with lived experiences on the Task Force, the recommendations seems largely the same as those submitted to the Premier by the Mayor, Chief Constable of the VPD, and Vancouver Coastal Health – namely the 300 long-term beds, more staffing in supportive housing and ACT teams, and increased involvement of the VPD in addressing the issues of mental health.  All these will continue to institutionalize and police those with mental health issues and addictions, which does not support people’s healing and recovery.

A peer leadership table is a start but overwhelmingly the Report’s strategy is to increase many resources for professionals, which fails to recognize the integral part of peers to support each other in healing and recovery.  There needs to be force in ensuring peers are respected and involved and are given meaningful employment opportunities to do their important work not just actions like “Support non-profit agencies to develop professional peer training programs…or explore opportunities for safe low-barrier places to go pre/post crisis with peer navigators present.”  Peers must be in all aspects of programs that aim to support people with mental health issues and addictions.  You must work together with peers to address services gaps. Furthermore in the future committees and tables, they must be comprised of at least 50% of people with lived experience on those tables that produce policies that deeply affect those with lived experiences.

Already with the level of institutionalizing and policing, I have heard repeatedly of incidents where people were unfairly treated by professionals and police because of the amount of power given to such people.  I support having an ombudsperson type role for illicit drug users but this role must be expanded for having ombudsperson type role for all people with mental health issues and addictions.  I am angered to recently hear that funding for advocates have been cut by Vancouver Coastal Health and that instead replaced by “system navigators.”  These advocates play a central role in countering the imbalance of power that perpetuate the suffering of those with mental health issues and addictions by the system.  City Council must take a stand to ensure this funding for advocates does not get cut but instead is increased in order to better support people with mental health issues and addictions.

I support the recommendation for an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre for youth but this in no way decreases the commitment for City Council to ensure an Aboriginal Healing and Wellness Centre for the community at large is set-up as soon as possible to support the community in its healing.  There needs to be more action than simply “create concepts/models.” This Centre is integral to addressing mental health and addictions and its establishment needs to be a priority action.  I am also very upset that I do not see a reference and acknowledgement in the report to the role of colonialism and its impact on the Aboriginal people and intersection with mental health and addictions.

Housing and income are also shockingly absent from this document.  How do one expect people with mental health issues and addictions to have healing and recovery without adequate housing and income, the lack of which contribute severely to increased issues?  City Council seems to always say they care about low-income housing accessible to people on welfare, disability, and basic pension so here is your chance – add an amendment into this report for advocating for more low-income housing, replacing more SROs with social housing, and higher welfare/disability rates.  Then go public, hold a news conference and aggressively demand the province and federal government for this.  Otherwise, it severely undermines what Council thinks it is going to achieve.  It drives homelessness and the situation will only get worse unless you step up your advocacy.  Gentrification in the DTES will also contribute to people’s health declining because of the various negative impacts it brings –Council needs to reverse the zoning decisions that gave gentrification the green light in the DTES and protect the low-income community from gentrification.  Otherwise you’re not going to have a healthy City for all.

Detox on demand is also missing from this report’s recommendation.

As a whole I do not support the Task Force report because its underlying ideology increases institutionalizing and policing of people with mental health and addictions.  However since I think regardless of what I say, the report will be still be accepted, I urge Council to make amendments to add missing items and strengthen existing directions.  Thank you.