Cowichan leaders urge province to help their homeless and opioid crisis 

WatchCowichan leaders say their community is in crisis as the drug and homelessness epidemic grows rapidly there. Officials are calling on the province to immediately fund treatment beds and services to help.

Abe Little was walking with a cane through Duncan Tuesday, suffering from broken ribs after a hit and run on Trunk Road.

He said the driver didn’t even bother to turn around to check if he’d survived or not.

“I just got out of hospital yesterday,” said Little, who is homeless in Duncan.

“I was there for two-and-a-half weeks.”

Once he was released, he had nowhere to go. So he back to the streets where he and friends sleep under Duncan building canopies.

“Places are too expensive and can’t get anywhere,” said Little.

He is one of an estimated 100 homeless people in the Cowichan community that in the midst of the opioid crisis. There is also a lack of affordable housing.

“People are starting to walk around with knives,” said Little.

Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour said kids are seeing IV drug users injecting on their walks to school.

“And it’s getting serious when our kids are seeing people doing it right in the middle of the road,” said Chief Seymour, who also called the situation critical.

Duncan’s Mayor Michelle Staples said officials and front line workers have had enough and are demanding the provincial government to invest funds and resources into solving this crisis.

“We need things like temporary treatment centres,” said Mayor Staples.

“We can’t wait for ten years for a building.”

Duncan’s community leaders were disappointed to see there was no money for the programs they’d appealed for in the current provincial budget.

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has issued the following statement on the matter:

Families across the province are hurting ­– people from all walks of life are dealing with the repercussions of a mental health and addictions system of care that has been underfunded and neglected for years.

Over the last two years, we have been working as fast as we can and with all partners to build a better system of mental health and addictions care that works for everyone in B.C.  We know there are gaps and we are doing everything we can to ensure that no one slips through the cracks.

Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by mental health and addiction challenges and we are working in partnership with the First Nations Leadership Council and the federal government to address the social determinants of health that underline so many health conditions.  This puts First Nations in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining what services they need and where.  We’re also investing in land-based healing and building two new urban Indigenous Treatment Centres and rebuilding/renovating six more in rural B.C.

In Duncan, BC Housing is actively working with the two councils on a range of housing options for people experiencing homelessness, including supportive housing. Funding was also announced last fall to build 30 second stage homes for women that will help free up space in existing transition housing and shelters.

Through Island Health, funding to substance use services has increased by an average of about $4 million a year in response to the overdose crisis.  This funding includes sobering and assessment, recovery services and outreach teams.  In Cowichan we have added more Inpatient Addiction Medicine Consult Services at Cowichan hospital.  We’ve also enabled and expanded same-day, walk-in mental health assessments and counselling in Duncan.

There is still much work to be done to ensure people living with mental health and addiction challenges receive the care they need, where and when they need it, but we will continue to push forward across all fronts until we get there. 



Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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