It’s hard to even comprehend but Jennifer Staaf has lost 75 friends to toxic drugs in her lifetime. She tries to keep a running tally but it can be hard to keep up.
“Even in the last ten days we’ve probably lost seven people, it’s on a daily basis, people are dropping and nobody knows about it,” Staaf said.
So a massive new banner installed outside Our Place on Victoria’s Pandora Avenue hits pretty close to home for the 44-year-old. The stark message ‘we lost a family member today’ was an idea the society’s board says came from staff struggling with grief.
“There had been four deaths that week and our staff were reeling, I mean it hits hard, these are our family members and our neighbours and our colleagues,” said Our Place Board Chair Margo Goodhand.
“What we hope is that people walking by or driving by will see this and let it resonate, these are not just statistics, the 2,300 people we lost in the year, in 2022, and the ones we’re losing every day.”
“You really want people to identify that these are not nameless people that are dying, these are brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and moms and dads,” said Grant McKenzie, Director of Communications for Our Place who also designed the banner.
McKenzie says he also hopes it spurs more action including a clean supply to keep people alive while they wait for treatment.
Staaf says she knew an 18-year-old girl who was put on a waitlist for detox and died four days later.
“When they’re seeking help [you] can’t say phone a number next week or have an appointment in two weeks or we can get you here or there, there needs to be somewhere for them to go right at that time.”
She says there are many who want help, including her, because life on the streets, often only sleeping a couple hours a week, is no life at all.
“It’s absolutely a nightmare, it’s the worst thing possible and nobody is enjoying it, it’s not a party, it’s not fun, it’s horrible,” she said.