Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Drew Snider is an old friend from Radio Daze. This was his fulsome response to the CNN documentary.
And we continue to cry out, "But the Emperor has no clothes!"
As I think you know, I've been a leader (not officially anymore, but I still do the promotion and fundraising) for The Lord's Rain, a facility that provides showers on the DTES. It's become a whole lot more than that in the five years it's been open, and a total of 9 years in the area still has me convinced that InSite is a rank failure.
Thought you'd be interested in this excerpt from a newsletter I send to supporters of The Lord's Rain. I have a few more musings after that (so you don't cut away too soon).

Dear Friends of The Lord's Rain,
It's hard to believe it's almost quarter-past 2013 -- and harder still to believe it's spring, with snow penning in my mother-in-law in Toronto and the weather here (at least, this past Wednesday, as I started to write this) reminding one of the Two Ronnies gag: "today's weather will be hot in Stott, cool in Goule, choking in Woking ... and those living in Lissing Down are advised to carry an umbrella." And for those coming into The Lord's Rain, the hot showers and coffee are a relief and a blessing.
It was similarly awful weather a couple of weeks ago, when I accompanied Frank to OnSite. OnSite is the cousin of InSite, the "safe" drug-injection facility on the Downtown East Side, where nurses keep vigil over people as they shoot up their drug(s) of choice. If someone feels they finally want to take a crack (pun intended) at kicking the habit, they can go across the foyer to OnSite, to see if they have any beds available. Frank has been trying to beat his addiction for years, so this was his latest attempt. I offered to walk there with him and give him moral support. It was 8:30 when we talked and OnSite didn't open until 10, so I told Frank I'd meet him at The Lord'sRain at quarter-to and we'd walk up together. I did want to support Frank, but I was also interested in seeing what's inside the place. As many of you already know, I'm skeptical of the "harm-reduction" approach, so even a cursory look would be instructive. 
It was a good sign when Frank came back to The Lord's Rain at 9:30 -- he was serious. We walked up and stood in line: other addicts, waiting to get their hit. A couple of them started banging on the window around 9:58 (the slight peevishness shown when the coffee isn't quite ready at The Lord's Rain is positively virtuous patience by comparison) and when the door finally opened, they all surged through and were directed to a door leading to the injection rooms. When Frank said he wanted to go to OnSite, he was sent to another counter. Two people ahead of him were told to "come back tomorrow," which was not a good sign; Frank went up and was told the same. I hazarded a question. "What treatment method do you use here?" "Oh, a number of things," was the reply, "like acupuncture, meditation, whatever the client thinks will work." "Does anyone help them make that decision?" "Oh, yes: we have counsellors here."
I didn't ask anything more, because I was afraid they might think I was spying and that might have affected Frank's situation, so I just nodded and Frank and I left. We agreed to meet there the next day, just before 10.
Frank was there before I was and this time I stayed outside while he went in. There was a curtain over the window looking into the OnSite reception area, but I found an opening and peered through. It gave me a good view of the front desk and I saw Frank wait in line, then step up. A few words were exchanged, and then he turned away and went to a different part of the building and through a door. Had he gotten lucky? I waited another 10 minutes as the rain intensified. A guy standing next to the door was calling out, "jib-jib-jib!" -- "jib" is the street term for crystal meth, and I couldn't tell whether he was selling or looking to buy. Finally, when Frank didn't come out, I squelched away, figuring he had gotten in.
That was Thursday. The following Tuesday, Frank was back at The Lord's Rain. "What happened?" I asked. "They said, 'come back tomorrow'." "Did you?" "No." He didn't explain where he went when he went through that other door. I haven't seen Frank since. It strikes me that that particular facility is built on the premise that drug addicts have freedom of choice: that they can choose to come off the stuff, and when they do, there's a facility to help them. Moreover, that facility gives them a choice as to how to be treated. But doesn't being an addict, by definition, mean that they've surrendered freedom of choice?
One of the Lord's Rain supporters, a dear friend who also does outreach work on the DTES, replied, saying she "couldn't disagree more" about harm reduction and told of the terrible decisions OnSite workers have to make every day, trying to determine who is less likely to die if they don't let him or her in.

Of course, it's a terrible decision, when you're called on to play God, but the thing she didn't address was the fact that, in the case of Frank, they only told him to come back tomorrow -- did not attempt to refer him someplace else. How does that speak to the level of caring they have for the addicts? Are they so convinced that their method is the only method that matters that they won't give a person a chance someplace else?

Nearly a year ago, my wife was co-chair of the BC portion of the Governor-General's Leadership Study Tour -- a cross-country expedition by people identified as potential future leaders (not Junior Achievement types, but adults of various ages, backgrounds and skill sets, with experience in government, labour, business and social work) to study various issues and how they're being handled. Amelia arranged for the tour to include The Lord's Rain, partly because she wanted the participants to meet the DTES people she knows -- the ones for whom she would cook on Saturday nights at Gospel Mission (we stepped away from that role in September).

The participants came on a Tuesday morning when the showers facility was in full swing, and they were blown away by the kindness and openness the people at the Mission showed towards them. They got to talk to "actual street people"; one of the tour members, from a reserve in Saskatchewan, met people she knew and who had more or less disappeared.

Worth noting is that the tour members visited InSite the day before. They were not allowed to talk to the "clients" -- only the staff. Go figure.


Drew Snider
communications/media relations professional

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