“What a sad time in our history. One must wonder how it will all end.”
That’s what Randy Kits wrote as part of a Facebook comment under the Citizen’s recent post with a story about the mess on Lewis Street and beyond that’s been made by some of the region’s homeless population.
“I would not step foot in a Duncan city park for fear of discarded needles. A couple business owners in town have shared stories with me about the issues they face every day with addicts, feces and needles,” he also wrote.
He’s not the only one.
“I have lived in this neighbourhood for 35 years, since I was 18 months old,” wrote Karlie Stokes. “I used to play with kids up and down my street and all around the neighbourhood. Now, I won’t let my daughter out to the sidewalk. She’s not allowed in the front yard without supervision, and my entire back yard is fenced, with multiple locks. This was once a wonderful neighbourhood, somewhere you would be proud to raise a family in. Now, it’s a hole in the ground. I see drug deals, homelessness, drug users every day. Someone was sleeping in the trees across from my house. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to call the RCMP…it’s just heartbreaking.”
The issue of drugs and the homeless in the Cowichan Valley has been around for years but by the accounts of most, seems to be getting worse.
Opinions are mixed about what the core problem really is and whose problem it is to fix. Fingers are being pointed every which way, from junkies to local governments to the RCMP to the court system to the operators of the homeless shelter and safe injection sites and more.
Many are simply fed up, while some have their own ideas about a solution.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the taxpayers but I’m sick and tired of seeing our town and government bend over backwards to help folks who don’t want help,” wrote Jackie Nicolson on the Citizen’s website. “I’m tired of seeing the money that has been spent in the York Street area to keep these folks from destroying their businesses. At the end of the day my heart goes out to the families of these folks but they think that we should give them the moon and the stars because they made a decision to put a needle in their arm.”
Nicolson called for some “tough love”.
But what does that even look like, wondered Al Brunet.
“What does “tough love” mean? What specific action would you take? Everybody is looking for answers but you are not providing any in your comments. The people on the front lines of this situation are understaffed, underpaid and overworked. If they ‘burn out’ your problem will get many times worse,” he wrote.
Jasmine Hopps believes treating addiction is crucial to change.
“The only solution to this problem is to tackle the addiction issue. Maybe we should be taking a look at other places who have successfully reduced addiction and homelessness. These people aren’t going to disappear, relocation isn’t the answer, more housing isn’t the answer, it’s time for something new,” she said. “Take a look at Portugal’s plan to deal with their addiction problem and how successful they have been.”
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drugs for personal use and made treatment available for free to anyone who needed it with the understanding that addiction is a chronic recurring issue best dealt with through treatment, not fines and prison.
The answer is not easy to come to, explained Paula Masyk.
“Everyone is frustrated by this situation, and many things are being tried by many good people. Nobody has ‘the answer’. To stop trying will not make addicts or homeless people disappear,” she wrote. “This problem in our society is here to stay. The society pays one way or the other. Either with treatment and housing or with policing, theft and medical. We can’t make it go away because we are fed up and frustrated. There is no escape from the impact. We have to decide the most effective way to pay, and give up the notion that we can choose not to.”