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Aprodicio Laquian: Knowing how other countries deal with their urban problems broadens our outlook so I don't see anything wrong in learning from their experiences. I agree that the blind adoption of "solutions" from other cultures will not work in the DTES but there are ideas and models from many countries that may help provided they are adapted to the existing situation in the DTES. I don't see too many things that are "uniquely Canadian" in the DTES abject poverty, physical and mental illness, drug addiction, and the mix of multi-ethnic and multicultural groups in a community are all found in other cities of the world. Some major strengths in Canadian society are: the willingness of ordinary people to get involved in community and public affairs, the excellent communication system that makes it possible to exchange good ideas, the ability of citizens to exert political pressure on politicians, and the aversion to graft and corruption. Most Canadian citizens are already engaged in learning from each other through various initiatives. In fact, in many countries all over the world, the planning and governance of Canadian cities are held as models of efficiency as well as participatory democracy and Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities. This is why it is so disappointing that these Canadian strengths have not been effectively applied to solve the problems of the DTES. While I agree that the majority of stakeholders in the DTES should be consulted, limiting the consultation to them will be counter productive because what happens in the DTES affects the lives of residents in Vancouver, the Lower Mainland and other parts of Canada. The problems in the DTES cannot be solved within the area alone.
Robert Harris from Canada writes: Is the first priority co-ordinating the efforts of the three levels of government? Considering that there are 175 social support agencies spending one million dollars a day, should one level of government take overall responsibility? Who should we put political pressure on to take control of the situation?
Aprodicio Laquian: While solving the problems in DTES requires coordinating the efforts of three levels of government, the primary responsibility lies with the City of Vancouver. Since Mayor Robertson campaigned on the basis of his program to solve problems associated with homelessness, public security and environmental sustainability, the Mayor's office is the logical point for political pressure. The bulk of resources for dealing with DTES, however, are under the control of the province of B.C. and the federal government and the City Government should lobby mightily to gain access to these. One must also remember that the private sector (domestic and foreign) has the capital resources and technical expertise for investing in housing, commerce, tourism and other employment generating and income producing ventures that may accelerate the development in the DTES. The dedicated efforts of volunteer groups and civil society advocates are also valuable resources that should be tapped.
Jason Dyck from Saskatoon writes: What are some of the new protocols and or procedures that could be put into place to help those that have substance abuse issues in the Downtown Eastside?? Please explain?
Aprodicio Laquian: The main issue in this area is institutionalization or re-institutionalization of people who have substance abuse. The old approach has been to treat addicts in hospital or other confined environments. Under the harm reduction program launched in Vancouver, safe injection sites were opened in the DTES. Based on the partial information available, the results of this initiative have been quite mixed, with claims being made for and against the effectiveness of the program. One effective approach used in various countries is the opening of relatively small treatment centres that are staffed by doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, counselors, physiotherapist and other professionals to treat drug addiction and rehabilitate addicts until they are able to join mainstream society as productive members. The Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, for example, has 140 staff members to serve about 100 individuals afflicted with substance abuse. Admittedly, this is an expensive approach but if the financial, social, economic and environmental costs of substance abuse in the DTES are fully considered, the approach can be cost-effective. I understand that the B.C. provincial government is pursuing similar programs and it is worth mentioning that they are not confined to the DTES area.
D C from Toronto writes: I'm curious about the effectiveness of the safe-injection site(s) opened in Vancouver. Obviously, it is a controversial idea and I want to know how effective these sites really are. I understand the sites are meant to protect both the general public and the users from theft - turning to crime, physical violence, disease, etc. I am sure if we built drunk driving lanes with heavily padded barriers on either side, there would be fewer injuries to the general public from impaired drivers and probably fewer/less severe injuries to those intoxicated when they drive - yet we don't do this. I can understand the argument (pro the sites) if we were seeing tangible benefits, but it wouldn't seem to have been overly effective given this line of stories. What stats are there to show decline in crime, prostitution, HIV infections, etc. since the program started and how many people have managed to kick their habit since the program has started? Are these sites really doing something materially more than giving an addict a clean needle?