Health authority begins Downtown Eastside shuffle with funding cuts to drug-user drop-in

Vancouver Coastal Health is rolling out a new strategy for addiction and mental-health care in the Downtown Eastside.

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      Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has initiated a shakeup among community services in the Downtown Eastside.

      The regional health-care provider has eliminated funding for the Drug User Resource Centre (DURC), which has operated on East Cordova Street across from Oppenheimer Park since 2003.

      That building, a community centre run by the Portland Hotel Society, has served as a home base for some controversial harm-reduction programs. Those include an alcohol-maintenance program where alcoholics brew their own beer, as well as support groups for crack and meth users. By cutting the DURC’s funding, VCH will save $634,000 a year.

      In turn, VCH has awarded a contract worth $1 million annually to Lookout Emergency Aid Society for a “new mental health and substance use drop-in centre”. That’s actually for an expansion of services offered at 528 Powell Street, where Lookout has had a program called the LivingRoom since 1993. VCH previously funded the LivingRoom with $797,000 a year. The new facility will run with extended hours, 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

      VCH is also planning to open an addictions clinic with a drop-in component at a site farther east on Powell Street. VCH spokesperson Gavin Wilson said it was too early to provide details about that facility, but noted it is expected to operate with an annual budget of $1.6 to 1.8 million.

      The changes are part of Vancouver Coastal Health’s “Second Generation” strategy for the Downtown Eastside, which the organization been unveiling slowly since February 2015.

      In a telephone interview, Lookout’s executive director, Shayne Williams, said 528 Powell will operate with the Second Generation strategy’s emphasis on clinical services but will remain low-barrier and operate with peer involvement.

      “You’re going to see the same types of services offered [by the DURC] with a better focus on connection to care for specialized populations like mental health and addictions recovery,” Williams told the Straight.

      But running through a list of programs offered at the DURC, Williams acknowledged some programs, and notably some related to harm-reduction, will be discontinued. For example, he said it was his understanding that the Portland Hotel Society will continue to run an alcohol-maintenance program, and so Lookout won’t be doing the same, as to “not duplicate services”.

      But laundry, showers, and other hygiene services will be expanded. Williams also said it’s his hope that movie screenings and a karaoke night will transfer over.

      “We know that we’re going to have to be versatile, and we will work collaboratively with the community,” Williams said.

      Update: Downtown Eastside group says there is no excuse in the way of a 24-hour drop-in for women

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