Thursday, June 28, 2012


One reason for the continuing tragedy that is the Downtown Eastside is because we don’t care enough to find truly meaningful solutions. Our community has allowed the scourge of drug addiction and mental illness to be socially and politically palatable because no one wants to acknowledge the truth: that as long as the society’s “garbage” is down there and NIMBY, it’s tolerable.

Police officer Wes Fung spurs debate over Downtown Eastside addicts’ civil liberties

We appease our guilt by hosting extravagant charity fundraisers and give money to panhandlers, and some will even make the trek into the neighbourhood during Christmas time to give out free food and clothing. These acts of goodwill are well intentioned but misguided, doing nothing to address the problems in the Downtown Eastside but instead enabling the status quo. It’s false compassion: we fool ourselves into believing our deeds are doing some good, but the primary motive is to cleanse our conscience.

The citizens residing in the neighbourhood are at times viewed as circus sideshow freaks. Families from all over the Lower Mainland will dare to drive into the area to show their kids what will happen if they use drugs. The people of the DTES are probably the most photographed, interviewed, and filmed to ostensibly bring more focus to their plight. The writers, photographers, filmmakers, and politicians go on to reap their rewards of recognition while the subjects of their work are once again relegated to mere footnotes, left to wallow in wretched obscurity until the arrival of the next hack or politico.

There is also a financial motive for the ongoing crisis. There are numerous institutions with their respective bureaucracies competing for limited government funding to deliver a variety of social services to the residents. It has been suggested that about one million dollars a day is expended, that much of it is wasted because of bureaucratic redundancies and a lack of accountability. Though this may be somewhat exaggerated, it is evident a lot of money is poured into the community as though it were a third world country. Throwing money at problems without the necessary checks and balances make any initiatives vulnerable to inefficiencies and corruption.

This creates a catch-22 situation whereby all these services are created to seemingly help the people, but by doing so we foster a prey/predator culture of dealers-addicts, pimps-prostitutes, sociopaths, and a cycle of violence where today’s victim is tomorrow’s offender. An atmosphere of entitlement develops because the boundaries defining social etiquette are blurred. Behaviours and actions deemed inappropriate in “normal” neighbourhoods are excused because the actors suffer from varying degrees of addiction and mental illness. The lack of consequences emboldens those who are not drug addicted nor mentally ill but feed on those that are.

This dysfunctional dynamic is used to justify the survival of all the bureaucracies, and society buys into it because it’s an easy cop out. The more programs and treatment centres that open the more we delude ourselves into believing it’s the best fix under hopeless circumstances.

Because these programs are centralized in the DTES, it’s very easy to be drawn into the maelstrom but almost impossible to leave due to the dearth of support elsewhere. Establishing treatment centres in the neighbourhood is akin to holding AA meetings in liquor stores. It’s doomed to failure when one has to fight temptation to navigate around the phalanx of luring dealers skulking nearby on a daily basis. Truth is, many of the dealers are gang affiliated, live in the suburbs, and are from middle-class backgrounds as are many of their customers. They make regular forays into the DTES to supply and lord over their subsistence-level minions who do the street-level transactions and run the risk of arrest.

Harm reduction strategies of providing free needles and crack-pipes to curb the spread of disease and overdose deaths are an understandable knee jerk response to the misery but do very little to address the problem in the long term. It will take a tough approach to deal with an ugly situation.
The concept of forced treatment is intensely controversial because it means the suspension of an individual’s right of choice, the foundation of democracy. There is also the argument that a person has to make their own decision to get clean and any coercive methods to compel treatment will fail. This premise is based on the notion a “junkie” is still able to make rational choices. We try to apply logic to an illogical act when in reality, the user is so thoroughly consumed with seeking their next fix that common sense does not apply.

This is not to suggest forced treatment is a panacea for all the ills haunting the DTES, because there are no perfect solutions—some people are beyond help and will die. However, if carried out methodically and with compassion, a person has a better chance to reclaim their dignity and self-respect, to give back rather than take. Forced treatment offers the one thing harm “reproduction” cannot—hope.

Amend the Mental Health Act to include addiction and divert some of the money flowing into the DTES into building medical centres located away from the area and staffed by qualified personnel. Instead of administering narcotic substitutes, the patient goes “cold turkey” and is closely monitored.

Next is a psychological assessment for mental fitness to determine the appropriate follow-up measures that include counseling, nutrition and exercise, hygiene, education upgrade, work force re-entry, and family participation.

Individuals deemed profoundly unstable and a safety threat would be transferred to an institution like Riverview for a more structured environment. Sadly, for many it is a life sentence. Those making good progress would earn the privilege of graduating to transition homes to continue their re-integration into the community. The houses would be located in neighbourhoods throughout Greater Vancouver and the neighbours would be made aware of the initiative, the entire process transparent.

Ideally, forced treatment and transition homes would be accepted as meaningful solutions to deal with addiction and mental health issues in the Downtown Eastside. In reality, the idea alone would cause such public uproar that no politician would dare champion the cause.

Compounding the problem are the self-proclaimed advocates for the marginalized whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the veil of suspicion and mistrust of the police. They descend into the DTES and cloak their agenda in self-righteous propaganda to brainwash the residents into believing they are the true defenders, but the only thing being defended is the status quo and, therefore, their relevance. Many of these groups and individuals know the “hot potato” issues in the DTES and use them as political launching pads to polarize the citizenry, reinforcing an “us versus them” mentality. Public pandering and social guilt has given these people too loud a voice and like Dr. Frankenstein, we have come to fear our own creation. Before riding too high on our moral horse we should all take a hard look in the mirror, though we may not like the image because the problem and the solution is staring right back at us.


Contrary to public perception not everyone in the DTES is drug addicted, mentally ill, or a dangerous felon. Having worked the area for the past three years I have come to know many of the long-time residents. There are a lot of good people who are passionate about the neighbourhood because it’s home. Their frustration is palpable because they know the community can be much more than what it is. I can also sense the vibrancy returning: the new funky shops and eateries opening up and the cautious optimism of the people moving back into the area.

There are those who believe this “gentrification” of the DTES is a threat to the disadvantaged, low-income residents: that the resulting rise in property values would make rents unaffordable thereby throwing these people onto the streets.

I believe if the government were to adopt a more assertive tact to deal with the fiscal inefficiencies and redundancies, the money could be redirected to attract reputable landlords and building owners with fair subsidies relative to property tax increases. This would be an incentive to provide a higher standard of housing for low-income residents who must earn the privilege of living in the upgraded homes.

I also believe that if people are surrounded by positive stimuli they will be inspired to try harder to be better, call it the “Broken Window Theory” of human behaviour. For far too long, the DTES has been enveloped in a smothering cloud of negativity, but the shroud is slowly lifting. This renaissance is being lead by new entrepreneurs, developers, and young families who are aware of the challenges faced by the residents and want their participation to help make the neighbourhood a better place.

These two groups can coexist quite comfortably, but much of this is predicated on the political courage that will be required to make difficult decisions to deal with the problems. Until that happens, the present situation will ensure job security for a lot of folks—cops included.

Const. Wes Fung is a Chinatown-Gastown neighbourhood police officer with the Vancouver Police Department. Fung has been a member of the department for 27 years, serving as the liaison for several SRO hotels in the Downtown Eastside over the past three years. The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s and do not represent the views of the department.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Just CLICK on this image above to get all the details and join in and support one of our best prevention programs in the Lower Mainland!

You can get more details and BUY TICKETS at the CHILDREN OF THE STREET website.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


By now, most of you have read Pete McMartin's column in today's Vancouver Sun about Harm Reduction.

You might also be encouraged by these two comments that were emailed to me:

Comments: Re: Article “Can David Berner reduce Harm Reduction”

Addiction is Hell and Harm Reduction is an invitation to extend your stay in that Hell

I am familiar with that hell and I am incredibly grateful that my family and my workplace did not believe in “harm reduction” or I would not be writing this letter today. Many on the east side do not have families or workplaces to pressure them into treatment but funding a guaranteed hell is no answer when that money could go to providing greater access to detox and treatment.
Harm reduction uses the taxpayer’s money to keep the addict sick!! This method also perpetuates the notion that the addict doesn’t need to change – but we do!!  I had blamed those around me for my own addiction and all the problems that came with it – if everyone else would change my life would be fine! Maybe they should have reduced the speed limits on my street to protect me when I was in addiction!!
 To offer the addict anything but the truth is a disservice to him and robs him of the hope of recovery. The truth is that he is gravely ill and there is no “middle of the road” solution. Treatment Centers or facilities that offer a spiritual answer help an addict to take responsibility for where he is while offering him a doorway out of hell to a life that is incredibly more wonderful than he could ever imagine.

Barb R

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Comments: I just read the article,"McMartin: Can David Berner reduce harm reduction?" posted in the Vancouver Sun. I couldn't agree with you more, David.
It's so true that, "politicians and academics haven’t been grounded in the dirty practicalities of addiction".
I was once brainwashed and seduced by the arguments for 'Harm Reduction' and then I started working in the DTES. It wasn't long before I realized Harm Reduction didn't work and that all we were doing was helping people stay stuck.
I soon put it together that there were organizations out there that supported Harm Reduction because if people were all of a sudden getting clean, they would be out of business. And that is exactly what Harm Reduction has become: a business. It's starting to make me sick.
Ironically, this article came out just as I was preaching to others about how futile Harm Reduction is.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Health Policy? Let us Now Pray...

It is clear that our Provincial Health Officer doesn't spend much time around addiction recovery centres.

How else to explain Dr. Perry Kendall's latest inflammatory public declaration?

Pure ecstasy can be ‘safe’ if consumed responsibly: B.C. health officer

As reported across the country in the last few hours, our leading bureaucrat has thrown all good sense out the window. 

We hope that one day he will leave his office and meet the parents, partners, friends and family members of the ecstasy-afflicted. Then, he might want to drop by the many prevention and treatment programs that are on the front lines of this madness every day - that includes weekends and evenings.

Following are comments from Al Arsenault and Toby Hinton of the Odd Squad:

  Yah, prohibition does all the harm...that's why there were no drug problems in the late 1800's when everything was legal...the Narcotics Control Act was passed because it was an ideal world of all drug legalization...Al

 Does not surprise me at all. When Through A Blue Lens came out, he went on TV and bemoaned that this type of programming did nothing for education. When we talked to him about this later, he admitted he had not even watched it before giving his interview. He is pro-legalization for everything, and why he is our prov. health officer is beyond me. MDMA - even in its pure form - is linked to depression/seratonin depletion/and other developmental issues.


We welcome your comments. From this writer's point of view, the Harm Reduction movement and philosophy have found a great ally in Dr. Kendall and the result is policy that makes the word "irresponsible" seem inadequate.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Last Thursday, about 900 people joined Al Arsenault and his colleagues to celebrate 15 years of amazing Prevention work from the Odd Squad. The event was in the huge harbor-facing West ballroom at the Convention Centre and people from every walk of life were there. To Al and his fellow police officers and his Board and support team and all the folks who stand behind their work, major thanks and congratulations for keeping the lights on!

The video below - "What the Odd Squad Does" - says it all.

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Last month, Brenda Plant and her team held an equally impressive 30th celebration of Turning Point at the Four Seasons Hotel with special guest speaker, Rob Lowe. That's 30 years of taking in addicted men and women and graduating clean and sober citizens. For a wonderful evening and for their fantastic Treatment & Recovery work, also hearty thanks & congratulations.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012



On Saturday, June 2nd, we posted a marvelous piece from the South Delta Leader on the Little House Society's work.

Today, we are pleased to share with you this note from Jim and to offer our congratulations to a colleague who has devoted a life to prevention and recovery work with great results.

To my Shetland Island Clan and other dear friends,  a few weeks ago I received a heart touching recognition from our provincial government in the form of the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Man in Motion Award.  It brought me to tears for not once would I have ever expected this, nor even knew of the consideration.  I have long held deep respect for Rick Hansen and some 18 years ago my son's and I had the opportunity to have dinner with Rick as he was the closing speaker at a conference on Substance Abuse, the Workplace and the Family.  I was Chair of the conference that year and one of the great moments was our time with Rick Hansen.

As you I hope are now aware our two years of work on building the concept of a strong community education society and a Little House to go along with it will hit a significant milestone this Sunday with our Grand Opening of our new multi-purpose community education, training and meeting centre.  Our new video will soon be completed and I will forward that to you when completed.

I thank you from the depth of my heart for your encouragement, support and prayers.

In Love, respect and deep gratitude.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Please note that we have added a one-button quick credit card payment for tickets to our September 20th David Pomeranz concert event.

The BUTTON is in the right hand margin and it is cleverly named BUY NOW.

If you click on the little menu above it, you will see that you can buy any of the $65, $100, $150 or $200 tickets, the last including the pre-show catered goodies.

Please be sure to include your address, email and or phone number so that we can get your tickets to you right smart.

Thanks for your support and see you there!

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Getting unhooked from a life of addiction

Contributed photo
The exit doors of the hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan swung open and the rush of sub zero winter air pouring into the building produced a chilling and defining moment for Susan.
Her drug dealer boyfriend was in police custody on counterfeiting charges.
She was a longtime addict.
And now, far from her home in Tsawwassen, the then 18-year-old had nowhere to go.
What was her next step?
Embarking on the long road to getting clean and sober was the answer.
Susan—not her real name, like the others in this story who asked for anonymity—knew the only way to break the self-destructive cycle of addiction was to change her life completely.
Cast off the drug and alcohol use. Get back to her family. And create a purpose in life.
It's a fairly similar story for three other local 20-something addicts who have managed to a make change for the better.
And with the grand opening of the rebuilt Little House Society facility on June 10 in Tsawwassen they are keen to tell how they got unhooked from addiction traveled down the road to recovery.
The Little House Society is billed as a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and advancing education related to substance use, abuse, and addiction, and abstinence-based recovery from addiction. Its building on 12th Ave. adjacent to Brandrith Park, a small residential structure, fell victim to arson in 2009, and with the community's assistance it has been re-established.

The road to addiction
The original Little House was a source of help during Susan's recovery, now 27, who moved to Tsawwassen from Coquitlam when she was 14. She had already experimented with drugs—marijuana—at the age of 12. And by the age of 15 was addicted to meth amphetamines.
"To tell you you the truth, I came here as a new person to the community and the group of friends who accepted me experimented with drugs," she says. "There isn't a lot for young people to do out here that's not sports. So, free time is spent experimenting with drugs."
At first she said declined the invitations, but eventually gave in.
"It was a guy. He was more persuasive and I thought if I do it (drugs) with him, he'll like me more," Susan says.
In Grade 11 she was kicked out of high school in Tsawwassen and sent to an alternate program.
By the end of Grade 12 she was expelled from the alternate program.
Delving deeper into the drug culture Susan started associating with criminals.
"It's just part of that world," Susan says. "And I got in trouble with the law."
That was in Regina and the moment when she knew things had to change.
For Henry, it started with drinking at the age of 15. It was a way for the Ladner resident to break down the barriers of insecurity to become the fun-loving, focus of attention person he desperately wanted to be.
"After my first time drinking I spent the night in the hospital," says Henry, now 21. "I had to get my stomach pumped because I drank too much. And it went downhill from there."
As he got older Henry turned to harder drugs such as cocaine.
In Grade 12 he became disconnected from family and friends in preference for those with whom he was using drugs.
"I've always had a fear of social situations." he says. "I've always been a nervous person and my way to deal it was to take myself out of the equation and replace it with the effects of a drug like cocaine which I used to make myself the life of a party."
After a while that wasn't enough to break free from the shackles of his anxieties and Henry graduated to opiates and a preference for solitude.
"It was just me, my video games and my drugs," he says.
Not long after graduating from high school Henry left home for college on Vancouver Island at age 19. A change in geography was maybe a way out, he thought.
"I had a burst of motivation for the first month, then I crashed. I found a way to get drugs, drank by myself and stopped going to school altogether for two semesters," he says. "I went farther and farther into the depths of addiction because I didn't have anyone to remind me where I was going. I was truly on my own. And once I was left to my own devices it was well and truly over."
But while he recognized the downward spiral it took a bad experience while consuming halucenogenic mushrooms to present Henry with a moment of clarity to fully understand the position he was in and to change the direction his life was heading.
"I suddenly saw I wasn't the grandiose, good looking, athletic guy I thought I was. It was all an illusion."
He called his mother in the middle of the night and said he needed to come home and his parents, who had always been supportive through all his trials, accepted his return.
Henry came home with the intent to get clean, but experienced relapses that included cocaine use to get himself up for the sports team he belonged to.
But when the drugs failed to deliver the desired results it took a call from a close friend, Colin, a fellow addict and his former drug dealer in high school, to get him pointed in the right direction in a treatment program in New Westminster.
"I don't know what I was thinking walking up to the place, but it just felt right and was something I had to do," Henry says.
Seeing his friend Colin there, looking healthier than he'd seen him in years, inspired Henry to make the effort to stop using.
Colin, also 21, says he felt compelled to help Henry get clean.
Colin's story was similar to his friend's—drinking alcohol at an early age to heal the emptiness and sadness he felt inside. Then he graduated to increasingly more potent drugs—much of them pilfered from his family's medicine cabinet.
By the time he was in Grade 10 Colin was dealing drugs, and cocaine and oxycontin use was a regular habit.
"The opiates like oxycontin became my drug of choice," he says. "It made me feel so good."
His addiction to the drug became so ingrained that following an accident at work where he cut his knee badly, all Colin could think of was being able to get as much pain medication as possible from his doctor.
"At the hospital I pretended to be in severe pain and played that off for months."
After completing Grade 12 Coiln started using heroin on a daily basis.
"I wasn't working. I was like a homeless junkie. I didn't live on the streets. I was on my friend's couch. I was kicked out of my parents' house. No one would hire me. All I did each day was use heroin and cocaine," he says.
Knowing he was going nowhere in life Colin attempted treatment for his addiction. The first try failed.
Colin returned home and promptly relapsed.
That happened mainly because Colin says he never fully accepted he was an addict.
"I always told myself that I could drink on the weekends, and life would be good if I could only do the odd hit (drug use) here or there."

Going backwards
Relapse for those in the 20-something demographic who move back to the family home is prevalent, says Jim Stimson, president of the Little House Society who is working on bringing together those like Susan, Henry and Colin for regular support group meetings.
Jim Stimson outside The Little House-May 30, 2012
"The highest rate of relapse for young adults is when they return to live with one or both parents," Stimson says,  "especially if the parents have not done any recovery themselves. Because the addiction compulsion is not gone. It's just been treated. So, what happens is that the illness is a living entity that doesn't want you to really quit. And that sets you up to create conflict. And there's no better place to create that conflict than in the home with those who you are closest to. And bingo, the relapses start happening.
"You gotta stay out of slippery places," Stimson said. "You don't want them (recovering addicts) in places where's there's constant chaos and disagreement."
Those parents who buy into the education side of addiction more likely to have their children succeed in treatment.
Colin's family did and last month he celebrated his first anniversary of being clean.
It's been five years clean and sober for Jane.
Her journey through addiction started with struggling to gain acceptance in school, "and l was looking for a different way to cope than other people," says the 23-year-old single mom, adding the birth of her son is what made her change.
"I got into drug debts, health problems and was homeless, but none of that scared me or shocked my world. It was me being pregnant with my son that changed things. It changed my aspect on life."
Part of that was the challenge set out to her by a friend who said the best way to ensure she kept her child after he was born was to immediately go clean. And that meant throwing out her current supply of drugs.
"I really knew something was wrong with my life when I started crying over the fact of crushed (discarded) dope," she says laughing.
But she did it—went clean for a week. And that stretched to a month, then five months.
"I managed that because my son also filled something I'd been searching for," she says. "Whenever I went to treatment I was told that I had to be doing this for myself, not someone else. But that wasn't good enough because I didn't care if I lived or died at that point. For me, using drugs was a slow process of committing suicide, which I was committed to."
She says that in her mind she never believed in the unconditional love from her parents.
"I always felt that I didn't live up to their standards of what a daughter should be, so when I found out I was pregnant I finally got what I was looking for—unconditional love."

New lives with purpose
Today, Susan, Henry, Colin and Jane have lives with a purpose—ones they believe other addicts can attain with the assistance of programs in facilities such as The Little House.
Susan completed a degree in criminology and aspires to be a probation officer. Henry and Colin have full time jobs they enjoy. And Jane wants to help other addicts.
"When I decided to get clean not even a brick had been laid on the Little House foundation. But I think with something like that in the community there's no way of predicting what it's going to do, but the potential is there for lives to be saved and families to be happy," Colin says. "I never learned anything about what addiction was when I was young. I learned that drugs were bad. But with this here there's the chance for people to understand what addiction means."
"Now that it's (The Little House) back in the community I think it will be well utilized because people will realize that it's a safe place to go to get the resources they need to help their own family," Jane says.
For more information about The Little House Society visit