A low-barrier drop-in centre that offered essential services to residents of the Downtown Eastside is closing amid the worst overdose crisis the area has seen.
The Drug Users Resource Centre (DURC), which served up to 1,500 clients per day, is ceasing almost all services after Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) eliminated its annual operating budget of $634,000. The Portland Hotel Society (PHS) has run the facility since 2003.
VCH announced its plan to shut down DURC on April 7 as part of its Second Generation strategy to overhaul health-care options in the Downtown Eastside. A new mental-health and substance-use facility, the Powell Street Getaway (formerly the Living Room), is meant to replace the one operated by PHS. It is managed by the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which was awarded a $1-million contract to provide services in place of the ones offered at DURC.
“VCH has blood on its hands, as far as I’m concerned,” said Dean Wilson, a long-time DURC volunteer. He says Lookout staff don’t have the experience to deal with drug users.
“They’ve failed at engaging with drug users, and now these people are lost,” said Wilson, who ran a Harm Reduction 101 program at the facility.
“We were the first to do Narcan training. A few months ago, Lookout phoned us and asked, ‘Where do we get Narcan?’ We are the pioneers on this, and they’ve [VCH] turned around in the greatest overdose epidemic I’ve ever seen and said: ‘We’re going to give it over to people with no experience.’ ”
When asked why the funding for the centre was eliminated, VCH spokesperson Anna Marie D’Angelo said that it has simply been shifted to another service provider.
As for the discrepancy in experience, she told the Straight that there are “transition plans in place” for clients who once relied on DURC. “There shouldn’t be any change; it should be improved service, and that’s always been the plan,” D’Angelo said.
Coco Culbertson of PHS has been meeting weekly with members of Lookout and VCH since May. “My role is to make sure that no one that used DURC is left out in the cold,” Culbertson said.
She said that although Lookout is making a “robust effort” to connect with DURC clients, “it’s very difficult to shift people’s culture, especially when they’ve been there for so long and where there’s a therapeutic family involved.”
Although the facility is closed, DURC’s recently opened overdose-prevention injection room and a few of its managed alcohol programs will be operating “for the foreseeable future” but at reduced hours.