A letter we got this week really brought home the extent of the homelessness crisis here in the Cowichan Valley and the opioid crisis that goes hand in hand with it.
Many of the folks still on the street are those who are very, very difficult to house, even on a temporary basis. Sometimes this can be due solely to mental health issues, but often it is due to drug issues (Warmland House does not permit people to use illicit drugs within its walls). Sometimes these two problems combine for an even more challenging situation. Sometimes the mental health issues came first. Sometimes the drug issues caused the mental health and cognitive issues. Either way, the result is someone for whom there is no housing in Cowichan.
A big group of these folks had been congregating and squatting in a tent city on Lewis Street, but recent efforts by RCMP and municipal bylaw enforcement broke that up.
The obvious question is, where did those people go? They haven’t suddenly found housing. Reporter Robert Barron asked that question of officials and the homeless community for a story on the subject in our Wednesday edition. The answer was that the homeless people had simply dispersed out into the community, and some had possibly left for parts unknown.
The letter we got from Chris and Donna Turner confirmed that the homeless are still here. They are residents of Chesterfield Avenue, and say many of the homeless have moved into their neighbourhood, bringing their debris, needles and overdoses with them.
Even after all of the reporting we’ve done on the subject, I was still shocked to learn that they had used three naloxone kits in three weeks to treat random people they’d found overdosing in the neighbourhood. They are trained St. John Ambulance first responders, so have taken it upon themselves to carry the kits when they walk their children to school. They also carry a sharps container to pick up needles.
That’s crazy! Who could have imagined almost literally tripping over people overdosing on drugs steps from your front door even just 10 years ago? And it’s not just here, of course.
Robert, who lives in Nanaimo, has written in his column about his experience of having a stranger overdose on his side lawn. This epidemic is in cities and communities big and small. We are all scrambling to find solutions. Though no permanent fix is in sight, it’s clear we have to keep trying. Our communities depend on it. In this case, it’s not just a fuzzy nostalgia that makes any sane person want to go back to the relatively drug-free way it was 15 years ago.