CityCaucus Redux: Four Pillars Coalition on life support

heroin
Is the Four Pillars Coalition now only standing on one leg?

Today we’re featuring a CityCaucus Redux post we first ran in September 2009. It was becoming abundantly clear back then that Mayor Gregor and his Vision Vancouver caucus were slowly backing away from the award winning Four Pillars drug strategy. The initiative had been championed by three previous administrations.

Since this story was first published, Donald Macpherson, the head of the City’s drug policy branch, has quit his job and the initiative continues to languish. I thought this might make for an interesting read given the fact Mayor Gregor has just fired off a letter to the federal government outlining his support of Vancouver’s supervised injection site. The letter was co-signed by former Mayors Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell, Philip Owen, Michael Harcourt and Art Philips. It’s interesting how Robertson has been virtually silent on this issue for 2 1/2 years, but on the eve of a civic election, he is finally speaking up for this program.

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It all started with Mayor Philip Owen. Then it was reinforced by Mayor Larry Campbell. It basically ended with Mayor Sam Sullivan. What are we talking about? None other than the much vaunted Four Pillars Coalition (FPC), an organization that for almost a decade has advocated for a balanced and innovative approach in the battle against the impacts of drug addiction.

Since the election last November, there has hardly been a mention of the FPC. Unlike his predecessors, Mayor Gregor Robertson has made it clear that he is more interested in making Vancouver the greenest city on the planet, rather than trying to advocate for innovative ideas to solve the open drug problem facing Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.

Unlike Owen, Campbell and Sullivan, who all made drug policy reform a big part of their mission, this Mayor has been virtually silent on the issue. The work of keeping the FPC alive has rested mainly with Donald Macpherson, the ever-likable public servant who heads up the City’s drug policy branch.

Is it simply that Mayor Robertson doesn’t see this as his issue? Or is it that he realizes he only has about 30 months left in this term to accomplish something on the green file and that’s where he is going to focus his energy?

Regardless, one thing is clear with His Worship, the days of talking up harm reduction are all but over. Take for example the most recent FPC meeting that took place in March. The focus was the prevention pillar. On June 24th, the FPC is scheduled to meet and I have it under good authority that once again the topic will be prevention. Here is an excerpt of Mayor Robertson’s address to the FPC back in March:

With the current array of challenges we face from homeless to addictions in our streets to the incredible unsettling gang war, the times are demanding change. They are demanding new approaches and certainly prevention and education are at the core of what needs to be our new approach. What I’m hearing now is that we need a new culture of prevention…

Since when did prevention and education become a "new approach" when it comes to battling drug addiction? Who is the mayor kidding? Firstly, these two pillars have been part of the FPC mandate from day one. Secondly, there are no shortage of provincial and federal government programs that preach prevention as the main line of attack in helping to get addicts off of our streets.

What follows in the Mayor’s speech about prevention appears almost unintelligible:

Prevention is a lot more than just dealing with drugs or focusing on the drug end of the spectrum. Prevention requires that all of us partner. Work together. Collaborate. It still means leadership though. It doesn’t mean that by all working together and turning inward into a circle to work on problems that we don’t drive forward and lead.

I think it requires that combination of partnering but setting direction and trying new things and new approaches and leading. There are people here who have done great work in the city on prevention. Often times it has been in isolation. There are lots of stories told of incredible efforts that have been made, in particular in the Downtown Eastside. But so many of them are siloed so many are individual or smaller group efforts and they are not adding up to greater than the sum of their parts.

We need to see more collaboration. We need to see more funding assistance from different levels of government. We need to see more knowledge transfer and capacity building to get more of the sum of these parts.

Huh? Can someone explain what he just said? More "capacity building" and more "knowledge transfer"? Did the Mayor just come back from a buzz word convention in Vegas?

What the previous three mayors understood was the fact it was a lot harder to sell harm reduction (aka supervised injection site) or innovative treatment such as the NAOMI pilots to senior levels of government.

Collectively, these mayors used up a tremendous amount of their political capital trying to convince senior levels of government the "just say no" approach wouldn’t cut it, and that innovative solutions to Vancouver’s drug problem were desperately needed if we were going to save lives and cut healthcare costs.

Owen and Campbell convinced senior levels of government to fund a supervised injection site while Sullivan convinced the Conservative government to fund SALOME, a pilot program to treat drug addicts with legal substitute medications. Both were a difficult sell.

Robertson’s focus (as little as there has been on this issue so far) seems to be squarely on the prevention pillar. By doing so, he doesn’t run the risk of offending some folks who continue to believe the only answer to solving drug addiction is opening up more treatment beds or hiring more police. This is a stark departure from his predecessors, and as a result, he will likely gain votes for it.

Just take a look at the Province newspaper’s articles last week in which they triggered a debate about whether drug addicts should be forced into treatment or rehabilitation programs. You can see from some of the reaction from Province readers that this lock-em-up throw away the key approach to drug addiction has all too many supporters.

If these types of articles would have been written under former Mayor Larry Campbell’s watch, you can bet he would have been the first person to have spoken out. Robertson remains silent, yet again.

The Mayor still has plenty of time to demonstrate that he has a genuine interest in the drug policy file, and that he’s not simply going along for the ride. He should be actively supporting the SALOME trials that are about to get underway in Vancouver. SALOME will provide a select group of drug addicts who have failed traditional treatment or rehabilitation programs (something that is not uncommon by the way) with legal medications as a treatment to eventually get them off drugs entirely.

For the sake of all the lost souls in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and beyond, let’s hope that Robertson places just a bit more emphasis on solving the drug problems plaguing our streets over the remaining 30 months of his administration.

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  • George

    Dear Humble Editor…
    I can’t get the links to work. I keep getting not available. Help!
    Feel like I’m at an online voting page..

  • Sorry about the broken links to several Province articles we linked to in 2009. They are clearly no longer available. Therefore I have now removed them.

  • Glissando Remmy

    The Thought of The Midnight
    “On 11th of May, of every year since the day I was born, people who know me celebrate… my Birthday. Friends have always asked me before ‘Did you make a wish?’ and my answer was always the same ‘Yes, on my Birthday, I wish for a By-Election!’ Today that wish came true. Citizen Clark vs. Citizen Eby and Change, in Point Grey. Weird, huh?”
    Now, thinking more about it, it’s true what they say…be careful what you wish for. In Chinese symbolism a ‘Clark versus Eby race’ would be like the number ‘44’… Death-Death.
    That’s why the only thing that would make me feel better on this Birthday would be to be back in my mother’s womb, nice and cozy, surrounded by the familiar amniotic fluid, and with Offenbach’s ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’ playing magically in the background, away from it all.
    Paddle, paddle…barcarolle…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is0Lb4cj_3c
    Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour,
    Souris à nos ivresses,
    Nuit plus douce que le jour,
    Ô belle nuit d’amour!
    Le temps fuit et sans retour
    Emporte nos tendresses,
    Loin de cet heureux séjour
    Le temps fuit sans retour.
    Zéphyrs embrasés,
    Versez-nous vos caresses,
    Zéphyrs embrasés,
    Donnez-nous vos baisers!
    vos baisers! vos baisers! Ah!
    Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour,
    Souris à nos ivresses,
    Nuit plus douce que le jour,
    Ô belle nuit d’amour!
    Ah! Souris à nos ivresses!
    Nuit d’amour, ô nuit d’amour!
    Ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah!
    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Steven Forth

    A bit off topic (but only a bit as all these programs require budget) – has anyone modeled what happens to the city’s budget if there is a major correction to housing prices? A 20%, 30%, even a 50% correction seem possible. What will this do to the city’s finances? I am sure no candidate will touch this (would be nice if they did) but there are readers of this blog who might have some thoughts they can share. (Maybe Daniel can have someone do a separate post on this.)

  • Julia

    if there is a huge swing in property values- the city budget does not change.
    The mill rate for the July 1 tax bill gets set at the end of May based on the assessment role as of the previous October.
    The revenue requirements get sliced up based on whatever the values were that date – regardless of what has happened after the fact.
    City never does without. The only line item that is iffy if their development revenue.
    Did you know the city has over a billion dollars in slush fund (oops, cash reserves) that they never draw down. Nobody ever checks what happens to the annual surplus – and there is one.

  • George

    Happy Birthday Glissando,
    Thank you for sharing these beautiful voices. As a society, with the fast pace we have slowly lost the interest in the classics.
    As a child my Mother always played her favorite LP’s of Opera’s that she adored…I had forgotten that until recently, the Vancouver Opera kept playing La Traviata on the radio to advertise the upcoming performance.
    I couldn’t afford to go to the Opera, but I went to a thrift store and secured a copy of the recording!!!
    I haven’t seen Mother in over 45 years..you just took me back..:-)
    Enjoy your day Glissando…ignore the election until tomorrow…trust me the outcome is out of our hands.
    But love stays with us forever…

  • George

    This today from the news, makes me wonder if ignoring the issues related to drug use and poverty in the DTES might lead to greater issues.
    Scientists detect drug-resistant bacteria in bedbugs
    VANCOUVER/CKNW(AM980)
    5/11/2011
    Scientists have detected drug-resistant MRSA bacteria in bedbugs from three hospital patients from Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
    Study co-author and medical microbiologist at St Paul’s Hospital, Dr. Marc Romney says while it’s a small and very preliminary study,it’s an intrigueing find.
    Bedbugs have not been known to spread disease, and there’s no clear evidence that the five bedbugs found on the patients or their belongings had spread MRSA or a second less dangerous drug-resistant germ.
    It’s not clear if the bacteria originated with the bedbugs or if the bugs picked it up from already infected people.
    Nothing conclusive as of yet, but something to think about..if the ignoring of the fourth pillar… Treatment is ignored.
    There was a link in this CC article that led me to a city site that explained 2 million yearly is put into VCH for “treatment for drug abuse .. match that with $15-25 million yearly for smoking cessation…yet we allow marijuana smoking to go unchecked..
    I also went to the City site for Carnegie Center and noticed the city boasts about fair trade coffee being served at Carnegie Center… so we focus on fair trade coffee and smoking and how much is spent on bed bug removal but only 2 million yearly for drug treatment…
    I ask you, political statement? or good policy…

  • Max

    George:
    This is intersting. It makes you wonder if bedbugs, like other insects can adapt and change in order to survive. And like many flu viruses we see today.
    The first year I volunteered at the shelter, I was sick just about every 5 – 6 weeks like clockwok – colds, flu, Norwalk virus (which oddly was a welcome relief as I was worried it was meningitis as in a two week period, 4 of the ladies that came to the shelter died from an outbreak). You would think that with addicts’ immune systems so compromised from drugs, and the fact that they don’t eat well, or eat much, that simple viruses would be a lot harder on them than those who don’t do drugs. But not necessarily so.

  • George

    It’s true Max,
    The immune systems are defiantly at play here exacerbated by the crowded living conditions..There are reasons that staff are required to get flu shots.
    Factor in the chill factor of folks walking around in the damp all day.. how can you get healthy?
    Most people assume that homeless people push shopping carts to carry their belongings but if you look closely.. they are actually using the carts to lean on, just as a senior depends on a walker..
    That is how I realized my “friend” was rapidly deteriorating. When I first met him he rode a bike everywhere. Sunday I noticed he walked several feet leaning on a cart, then he had to stop or sit down.
    I’m ashamed to admit this but after giving him “unsolicited 5 dollars” he asked me. “Why do people that run into me give me money?.. this happened to me twice now.. do I look that bad?”
    I tried to brush it off by saying no, I’m just aware it is a 5 week month for service cheques.. but in reality he does look very ill. He went to hug me and as ashamed as I am to admit this, I felt my body stiffen.. I have a weak immune system …
    That is why I don’t agree with putting everyone together in shelters.. are we breading a new disaster, especially with our Vision council pushing for “Green” initiatives for the City.. there are reasons we need certain bacterial/viral/bug controls…why do we have such a problem with bed bugs…
    History tracks it to the removal of certain pesticides..the new alternative is a “furniture Sauna” in the DTES.
    Granted bed bugs are everywhere including now showing up in hospitals..carrying MSRA trust me I have recently gone through a MSRA scare myself…you don’t want to mess with it.. and I have never been near a bed bug.. just imagine…

  • Ned

    george,
    ‘Bedbugs have not been known to spread disease’
    Wrong. There were five bugs right? One bit Robertson on his photo op in DTES, one bit Reimer on her Federal NDP support tour, one bit Magee who was traveling through the area, one bit Solomon who was looking for a nicer bycicle lane route to accommodate his bike business store, the last one bit one of the four. So, you were saying?

  • George

    Ned… LMAO that was very funny.

  • ned

    Glissy, Glissy…
    being accustomed to your writings for some time now,I dunno, I am a bit skeptical here. But if the only reason for your ‘Birthday by-election disclosure’ was so you could post that beautiful Barcarolle duet, for that I can’t thank you enough. It was…magic. Simply breathtaking, both the mezzo and the soprano were exquisite. (I also listened to the Netrebenko-Garanka and Caballe -Horne) I have to tell you, on this piece…No contest. So they are sisters (Iordachesco) these two, eh? And good looking. Just saying. Have a happy one, Glissy. regardless 🙂

  • George

    Could someone please explain for me what the Mayor is saying here.
    The only point I got was a request for more money (again) but I don’t understand what his point is.. help! and what is this circle he refers to?
    Prevention is a lot more than just dealing with drugs or focusing on the drug end of the spectrum. Prevention requires that all of us partner. Work together. Collaborate. It still means leadership though. It doesn’t mean that by all working together and turning inward into a circle to work on problems that we don’t drive forward and lead.
    I think it requires that combination of partnering but setting direction and trying new things and new approaches and leading. There are people here who have done great work in the city on prevention. Often times it has been in isolation. There are lots of stories told of incredible efforts that have been made, in particular in the Downtown Eastside. But so many of them are siloed so many are individual or smaller group efforts and they are not adding up to greater than the sum of their parts.
    We need to see more collaboration. We need to see more funding assistance from different levels of government. We need to see more knowledge transfer and capacity building to get more of the sum of these parts.

  • George
  • greg

    Robertson is almost incomprehensible in his speech. Who writes this for him? Whoever it is should be fired. He sounds like he just got off a smoke filled boat from a visit to Hollyhock on Cortes Island.
    Everyone knows he doesn’t give a crap about the injection site unless it will get him some good press. Total hypocrite!

  • Gregor T. Hollyhock

    While I hear what you are saying (insert name ‘GREG’), I think we need more collaboration on the criticism and effectiveness of the speech, as well as more provincial funding. Too much time is spent in isolated criticism of the particulars of my speech. What we need to do here (insert name ‘GREG’) is enable more knowledge transfer from your comments to our speechwriting capacity.
    A circle turned inward on itself is a parallelogram with angles missing. We can increase the size and round the corners of the parallelogram through inclusive geometry, and more provincial funding.
    Prevention is a lot more than dealing drugs but pricing them high. Prevention is about collaboration, not isolated silo-building at the expense of doing our sums.
    Did I mention we need more provincial funding?