Health authority funding shuffle could see Downtown Eastside lose drug-user drop-in centre

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      Since 2003, the Drug Users Resource Centre (DURC) has operated as a low-barrier drop-in centre for Downtown Eastside residents who face extreme marginalization for mental-health and addiction issues.

      The building at East Cordova and Dunlevy run by the Portland Hotel Society sees between 800 and 1,500 clients a day. On a recent visit, the Straight watched one staff member care for a quadriplegic man addicted to methamphetamine, feeding him and checking his blood pressure. Nearby, a volunteer helped a pair of homeless women do their laundry. In the past, the Straight has profiled a DURC program for severe alcoholics and a DURC support group for people who identify as transgender.

      Those programs are about to end or, at the very least, may undergo major changes.

      Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has eliminated the centre’s annual operating budget of $650,000. Portland Hotel Society interim executive director Eamonn O’Laocha confirmed the news to the Straight.

      “We have been informed by VCH that they will be discontinuing funding for DURC,” he said. “We are actively looking for other funders to support this unique and valuable service in the Downtown Eastside.”

      Former Portland Hotel Society executive director Mark Townsend (pictured with the Drug User Resource Centre's crack pipe vending machine) hopes funding can be found to keep the facility open.
      Travis Lupick

      In a separate interview, VCH spokesperson Gavin Wilson refused to say whether or not the DURC would continue to operate. Instead, he drew attention to a request for proposals (RFP) that VCH initiated last October for a new drop-in centre for mental-health and addiction services in the Downtown Eastside.

      “That RFP process is still under way,” he said. “It is a very confidential process.”

      Asked if the new facility will replace the DURC or stand as an additional service provider, Wilson replied, “That would depend on who the successful proponent is and what their proposal was.”

      Asked a second time, Wilson said, “This is to consolidate services.”

      The RFP describes an operation very similar to what the DURC offers today. It even suggests the new drop-in centre could be located “in the DTES on a street quieter than Main or Hastings and near Oppenheimer Park”.

      Kailin See is director of the Drug User Resource Centre.
      Travis Lupick

      O’Laocha said the Portland Hotel Society did submit a proposal in response to the RFP. He declined to comment further. The DURC’s director, Kailin See, similarly said she could not answer questions.

      Dean Wilson is a long-time advocate for drug-users who volunteers at the DURC. He acknowledged the Portland Hotel Society has submitted a proposal in the hopes of continuing the sort of services the organization offers there. But Wilson told the Straight he interpreted the RFP as designed to see the DURC replaced.

      “They took exactly what we have done for the last 10 years and then put it out to RFP so anybody can bid for more money,” Wilson said. “But there should be two. This stuff that we do down here, I don’t think they’ll be prepared at their new centre to deal with.”

      Portland Hotel Society

      The original proposal for the Drug User Resource Centre was submitted to the Vancouver/Richmond Health Board (which later became part of VCH), back in 2000. The Straight reached the document’s lead author, former Portland Hotel Society executive director Mark Townsend, on the phone in New York.

      Townsend said he hoped VCH would reconsider, adding, "That centre does so much on such a low budget.”

      He argued it’s hard to imagine another organization could provide the services that the DURC does better than the staff there already are.

      “They don’t understand that DURC was space for this community,” Townsend said. “At its simplest, DURC was just a place for people to sit, have a shower, and watch TV. Because they were chased away from everywhere else.”

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