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Letter: Poor job being done to address homeless, drug problems in Duncan

Unacceptable that we permit social dysfunction to take over streets and dominate emergency services

Poor job being done to address homeless, drug problems in Duncan

“Doing the right thing” should not equate to experimenting with a new idea simply because it’s suggested. Doing the right thing relies on an approach that is honest, transparent, realistic, and ensures that problems are addressed without creating more direct or indirect problems, i.e. collateral damage.

The functional centre of this community is downtown Duncan/North Cowichan, which is a small compact area. Such a concentrated urban milieu requires special attention to ensure that all of the land-use activities are complimentary. For example, our downtown is not a suitable or appropriate location for schools. It is a shame and such a lost opportunity that the new high school, that could have been located in a multitude of inspirational landscapes, is again, situated on a four-lane highway across from a string of fast-food restaurants. Now, we have a proposal to overlay layers of social dysfunction, misery and chaos with a warming centre very close to both the old and new high school (not to mention the Community Centre and other key populations). It is hard to make sense of the justification for what amounts to using a number of student populations, effectively as social “guinea pigs” in this unfolding social experiment that intended to address problems related to a very small tragic cohort of individuals with serious behavioural challenges and needs. Whatever happened to the concept of the greatest good, for the greatest number of people?

It is unacceptable in 2023 that, as a society, we permit this social dysfunction to take over our streets and dominate emergency services. Our provincial and non-municipal governments need to do more than to speak in platitudes about such issues. Today, there are unprecedented levels of violence, sexual assault, overdoses and deaths (!) in the shadow of three schools, small businesses, low-income neighbourhoods, etc. All of this misery and social dysfunction is situated in the core of our community and the greater community is powerless to intervene, express its concerns, or have their concerns taken seriously. It is the people most impacted who can’t afford to relocate or attend a private school, etc., that are seemingly expected to simply “deal with” the frightening social disorder next to their homes, places of work, places of learning, etc. We would not allow dogs to roam our streets in such tragic misery, yet it seems perfectly acceptable, by the lack of tangible action, for people currently living with addiction and/or untreated mental health who are unhoused. It is important to not lose sight of the need to balance sensitivity to the human condition by building communities that are safe, non-threatening and inclusive for all members. Furthermore, it is vastly problematic that anyone who disagrees with proposals of this kind is vilified or dismissed as a “NIMBY”; that only those with some direct connection to the misery, or who are paid to manage it, have the moral authority to speak up and be heard. Frankly, this is an issue that affects us all and everyone needs to be invited and welcomed to the discussion, equally.

The actions intended to address an issue should not generate additional peripheral negative impacts. It is clear that a proposal to locate a needed warming facility 100 meters from a school and a residential neighbourhood, is driven by little more than “what land is available”, rather than the identification of the least impactful location. Is it appropriate that service providers are concentrating this social anarchy in an area intended to be accessible and safe for everyone? Is there a more practical and less impactful location that can better accommodate this concentration in the context of a “campus of care” model? Who is championing this type of discussion and leading the way?.

Continuing with this band-aid or whack-a-mole response seems only to be exacerbating the problem and destroying the livability of the neighbourhoods in which they are located. We have only to look at the impact of the Wellness Centre on York Road to see that services that concentrate individuals within this cohort are not benign, regardless of the assurances of those who are paid to manage them. Even a farmers market located in the wrong spot can create issues for residents and others. It seems that so many of these important decisions are made based on what land is available. If the downtown is to be a place for social connection for all members of the community, it can’t be utilized as some sort of outdoor mental health and addiction treatment facility. Again, we need to create these important services and locate them sensitively and thoughtfully if we expect to have a safe, cohesive community for all. We must fund programs for people in need appropriately and adequately rather than providing these inadequate, knee-jerk responses.

Ross Blackwell

North Cowichan