Today started in a strange way for me. I had a really weird dream this morning and I could still remember clearly what happened in it. There was a very big city with skyscrapers, supersonic lifts and wide alleys. When it got late and dark some scary looking people started coming out of their hideaways and wandering around the alleys doing something suspicious. I got scared and tried to find my way back home but I realised I was in another country and then my alarm went on.
Much to my surprise, when later on I was looking for a topic for today’s entry, I came across an article about injection drug users in a low-income, densely populated neighbourhood of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, Canada. Not that they are any different from the ones you can find anywhere else no, it caught my attention because I’ll be working some 6 miles away from there very soon.
This neighbourhood has around 16,000 residents and about 6,000 injection drug users, with around 400 drug overdoses happening in the province in just one year. I know this makes it sound scary but don’t underestimate Vancouver: it is the most livable city in North America and third in the world with an overall score of 97.3 and perfect marks on health care, education, culture and environment according to The Economist.
Liz Evans is the founder and executive director of PHS Community Services Society, which helps drug users in Vancouver through a 70-room housing project since 1991. By 2003, PHS opened North America’s first legally sanctioned supervised injection site InSite, supported by the MAC Aids Foundation (as you probably know, many drug users get infected with HIV through needle exchange) .
Over the past decade and after two million injections and 14,000 visitors; 400 referrals are made into treatment, the staff revives 40 people on average a month, it has cut overdose deaths by 35% and not one person has died in the centre.
However, not everything has been easy for Liz and her project. To find out more, click here after you finish reading. Believe me, this video is worth watching.
Since then, health care services relevant for injection drug users have been established as well as social enterprises to give people jobs, on top of their community being reshaped by creating sites such as a community bank, a dental clinic or an art gallery. All thanks to the people who decided to get involved and address these matters, although going against social prejudice.
Still today, people who use those types of drugs or “junkies”, are strongly rejected and vilified by society, expected to suffer and blamed when they do and when they die you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief.
What everybody keeps forgetting is that these people are still the same funny, kind and gentle people they were before they became addicted. Only that addiction takes away the spark in their eyes and makes them ill. One minute of pleasure makes them pay a very high price and the signs of it are clearly visible unfortunately.
It is time to stop punishing and start creating walls of tolerance towards this community, where many struggle and fight to survive with strength and resilience. Most people never get to see this side of the coin.
All of a sudden my dream this morning made an incredible sense to me but with a slight change of perspective: I wasn’t scared anymore.