I am prompted today to offer something of my experience of the opiate crisis ongoing here in Vancouver.
What strikes me the most is that there seems to be nothing much that is decisively compassionate being offered to those people who are seriously addicted to these substances.
Their addictions reduce their view of the world to a very small space directly around them which causes them to rollercoaster from a soaring dance of extreme activity to valleys collapsed on the sofa, totally out of this world hanging with their heads in their laps. In their present state, they can not do what they are doing; the substance itself impels their addiction.
I live in a harm reduction shelter very well managed by one of the groups that are involved. There are only women here and it is residential in nature meaning that there is some kind of stability. Each lady lives in a shared room with a small amount of her personal property; there are formal lunch and dinner meals available and some breakfast items for those related to rice kKrispies milk and lots of sugar, toast, jam and peanut butter. Needles and other supplies are given out by the staff at the front office on demand. Ita��s a 24/7 gig, up and way, way down! All addictions are progressive and fatal.
Still, all of us here are safe. The front door is locked and attended day and night with a mandate that is compassionate listening and oversight. Imagine the gratitude enjoyed by this old lady in a wheelchair, your columnist here today.
Even so, if those addicted and using are too far out of control, too crazy and noisy, yelling and pounding the halls; abusing each other or themselves, are too much blown out when they come to the down side, unable to eat or keep themselves, they are shown other options which I only know about because ladies move on after about 3 months. There is nothing here anything about treatment; rather more like a short rescue and pass on to the next center rather like some kind of revolving door to nowhere.
These are the a�?heroin-esa�� of our title.
Of the men, I only know what I witness on the streets of the downtown east side. I live in the Main and Hastings area, Powell to Pender; east to Jackson where Carnegie Outreach has their offices and west to about Carrall and our famous landmark square Pigeon Park now with a memorial totem erected next to the old bank being restored.
The men are on the streets in their various states of up and down extremities; none with clean clothes, decent shoes, rain gear, of even much in the way of personal property. I am certain many of them are recorded either in the general homeless count or accommodated in disaster conditions of those local despicable SRO hotels. Their condition as a group is a precarious slide downward and even further down. It is especially whata��s so in winter as survival becomes very tenuous. No wonder they are addicted to those pretty pictures offering relief for a couple hours!
But men are somewhat different as a whole group in that from both ancient days and their own early days in the school yards, they form teams and look out for each other. I am certain there are small groups or gangs or teams of men who stake territory, who can and do back up each other and who align against all others who might interfere. Still the men are probably the most vulnerable to overdose, some of it I have to think is their own kind of unnoticed and unreported suicide.
My personal situation might be compared as luxurious and palatial compared to the pitiable circumstances I witness in these men. These were once someonea��s young son playing soccer in the school yard after school. Where has the promise gone that they once were?
Which brings me to the second take away of all this messy crisis.
Profit. Power and profit is written all over the whole of it. Who else is there in my world that is simply helpless about the lack of conviction to get to the core of the matter of who profits, who and where are the profiteers, who brokers the power of the importation and distribution of these substances? How does it find its way onto the streets? Where do the pushers buy and from whom? Where do we begin to follow the money? There are no headlines in our papers about any of the army of perpetrators being apprehended and charged with crimes against humanity, all for profit. Well, why ever not?
Is anyone else angry yet?
As a writer, I feel obligated to draw peoplea��s attention to certain situations that are part of the fabric of our social scene here in one of Canadaa��s star cities. My job is not about criticism. It is about causing a new relationship with thinking, it is only a little about new evidence or a�?newsa�� and much more about opening up some serious topics to consider bringing forward for attention by those people who have placed themselves before us as our leaders.
In the new vernacular of this day, time is up! It is up right now to get serious with ourselves as citizenry to cause our leadership to legitimately serve the constituency that elected them to their offices.
Here is that phrase again, If it isna��t me, who; if it isna��t now, when?
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