Police and North Cowichan bylaw officers moved in on the homeless people camping in the Lewis Street area in October, urging them to move on before installing fencing along the whole street in an effort to stop them setting up their tents. (File photo)

Editorial: Province must step up to help with opioid, homelessness crisis in Cowichan

Never have these problems been so bad as they are now

There have always been a certain number of homeless people in Cowichan, and most congregate in the Duncan area, as that is where services are available to give them at least a little bit of a hand up.

There has also always been a certain amount of drug use and addictions in Cowichan.

But never have these problems been so bad as they are now, creating a visible difference in the community that cannot be ignored.

There is a decided difference between those who don’t have a permanent place to live because affordable housing is scarce and those who are homeless because of mental health and addictions problems that make them extremely difficult to house. For the first group, putting up more housing is the solution. For the second, it is much more complicated, as a roof over their head is an important step towards solving the problem, but by no means does it do so in its entirety.

Some Duncan neighbourhoods that have bourne the brunt of the problem have seen everything from people literally sleeping in the streets and vacant lots around their homes, to increases in theft, vandalism and violence that have them at their wit’s end. Throughout the Cowichan Valley there has been a rising problem of thieves taking anything and everything that isn’t nailed down — and some things that are. These problems are clearly connected to the drug crisis.

The Cowichan Leadership Group is comprised of the Valley’s mayors, MLA, MP, school board chair, head of the RCMP detachment, and Cowichan Tribes chief. This group is calling on the provincial government to step up with more help to try to find real solutions to the problems we’re facing.

A 2019 proposal for temporary treatment centres and a safe drug supply pilot program were turned down by the provincial government. These are the bare essentials of what is needed, and don’t even touch on the mental health issues that may or may not be linked to the drug issues people face. Drug and mental health issues fall squarely into the category of health problems — and the province has jurisdiction over health.

It’s time for everyone to step up — the province included.

Cowichan Valley Citizen

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