Sonia Furstenau in the BC Legislature. Supplied by the Legislative Assembly of BC.
The Cowichan Valley Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau was in the legislature today, looking for answers on behalf of the Cowichan Leadership Group.
Last year, during a visit to the Cowichan Valley, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy denied a proposal to fund temporary treatment facilities and a safe drug supply pilot in the Cowichan Valley.
Furstenau pressed the Minister to take action on a problem that is worsening by the day.
“At the end of December, we had two violent deaths in Duncan and another unrelated stabbing last week, our homeless outreach staff is fearful for their safety, other frontline workers expressed despair about the outlook of an epidemic that’s showing signs of growing,” said Furstenau.
She added, “Residents are frustrated and angry. What is the government’s plan today for the unprecedented problems arising from substance abuse in Cowichan?”
The Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy responded by mentioning the housing projects underway in the Cowichan Valley.
“And in Duncan, (the) housing (ministry) is actively working on several housing options for people experiencing homelessness including support services,” said Darcy. “We recognize that there is much, much more to do, we have many years of neglect to overcome and we are getting started.”
Darcy said, “With political will and working together, we will get there.”
Duncan Mayor Michelle Staples has said that this problem won’t be fixed by adding housing, the necessary supports need to come with the housing or change won’t be realized.
Furstenau, like Staples, is a member of the Cowichan Leadership Group and said the provincial health officer has indicated the need for a drug supply program like the one that was denied.
“Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry is quoted saying, ‘decriminalization and pharmaceutical options for those who are dependant on street drugs is something that needs to be considered,’ ” said Furstenau.
“This is exactly what the Cowichan Leadership Group is asking for, we need access to safe drug supply, temporary treatment facilities, and transitional housing for people coming out of treatment and we need it urgently,” said Furstenau. “We are in crisis and we need a crisis response.”
Darcy replied by highlighting some of the services that have been added in the Cowichan Valley.
“We now have access to rapid addiction services, rapid addiction clinics, and in Cowichan, in particular, we’ve added more inpatient addiction medicine consult services at the Cowichan Hospital,” said Darcy.
She added, “We’ve also expanded same-day walk-in services and counselling in Duncan.”
Furstenau said the Cowichan Overdose Prevention site has had more than 54,000 visits to date, averaging more than 622 visits a week in the last three months.
That’s second only to the Harbour and Rock Bay Landing in Victoria and these numbers are higher than any other rural or suburban overdose prevention sites on Vancouver Island.