News / Vancouver

Coffins paraded to protest DTES drug treatment centre funding cuts

About 200 people marched to Premier Christy Clark's office carrying coffins Tuesday to protest the end of funding for eight full-time equivalent mental health and addiction workers at the Rainier Hotel drug treatment centre.

The 40-bed facility opened in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 2009 with $9.5 million from the province and a one-time $5-million contribution from Health Canada, but the federal funding runs out in early January.

The pilot project contracted PHS Community Services to try to help the neighbourhood's most at-risk women, many of them sex-trade workers with a history of homelessness, complex traumatic backgrounds, mental illness, and high rates of HIV and Hepatitis C, who have failed in other treatment programs.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) spokeswoman Anna Marie D'Angelo said the PHS workers were beneficial, facilitating things like knitting classes, yoga, and morning walks, but since they are non-clinical it is outside the health authority's mandate to replace the funding for them.

"In this program there were 50 women that actually completed the program, and it was a high cost, so as far as health care goes and the recovery goes, we've taken the most beneficial things — the housing and the healthcare — and we're transitioning that forward," D'Angelo said, noting there will still be health-care workers on site 24-hours a day.

Rainier community mental health and addiction worker Lindsay Thompson, who joined the protest walk, said the non-clinical staff has been integral to many women's recovery.

"They're there 24 hours, taking them to appointments, they take them to get groceries, they take them to do all those little tasks, which are not clinical, but it's what makes it a treatment centre and it's what makes it so successful," she said.

"VCH is continuing some of the clinical services, which is at least something, but it's not enough to make it a treatment centre. They're cutting all the therapeutic programs."

A study conducted by PHS Community Services found six months after women left the program 50 per cent were still abstaining from substances.

D'Angelo said that information came from a self-assessment that was meant to be submitted to VCH for review before being released publically, which it was not.

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