Humanity in the torments of the Downtown Eastside

Vancouver – In the Downtown Eastside, the beating heart of the opioid crisis, stakeholders from First Nations try day after day to build relationships with the most vulnerable, particularly Indigenous populations. Because for them, the crisis is much more humanitarian than health.

First part of a two-part series on the opioid crisis as experienced by First Nations in Vancouver

A truck speeds across the street Hand. On its trailer, a film crew with large cameras, protected by police officers, films a scene.

While the filming of this Hollywood production takes place on one side, on the other, five impassive indigenous speakers chat in a circle on street corners Hastings And Hand.

In this world where glitter and poverty collide, they have chosen their camp, that of helping people get off the streets.

The needs are immense in the Downtown Eastside, recognized as an epicenter of opioid use in Canada. Often, it represents the end of the road, the last destination of the country’s unfortunates, where men and women pile up on the sidewalks.

All these people will probably die, today, tomorrow or in a monthcoward Blaine Redcalfbitter, observing from the corner of his eye a group of people gathered near him.

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Blaine Redcalf looks down Main Street. Photo: Radio-Canada / Ismaël Houdassine

First Nation man screams Sunchildin Alberta, has lived in Vancouver for several years now and devotes part of his time as a volunteer for the association Aboriginal Front Doors.

As you can see, the environment is not healthy here. There are drugs everywhere, lots of opioids that anyone can get on every street cornerhe laments, accusing the inertia of the police authorities.

For the indigenous volunteer, the situation is serious. The omnipresence of fentanyl, often mixed with other substances, is a catastrophe.

According to 2019 figures, before the pandemic, First Nations represented nearly 40% of the homeless in the Downtown Eastsideeven though they only make up approximately 4% of the province’s population.

Five years later, the situation has gotten worse, blow Blaine.

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The Downtown Eastside is one of the places in the country where the most people openly use hard drugs. Photo: Radio-Canada / Ismaël Houdassine

Every week, he joins members of the organization Helping Spirit Lodge Society to distribute food, walking the streets, in direct contact with the itinerant population.

On this rainy Wednesday in March, Blaine is surrounded by employees of All Nations Outreachthe association instigating the project, located in the heart of Downtown Eastside. Its three permanent employees, including Stephanie Martin, are members of the First Nations.

We try to create links, to reach out to the people who live here. Show them that we are present, that we are ready to do what it takes to help themdeclares the woman from the Nisga’a Nation, a coastal people of northern British Columbia.

The day before, 365 meals were prepared, a record! she emphasizes. On the menu: fruit compotes, small box of juice and baloney sandwich.

>>A group of volunteers prepare meals.>>
>>Hector Hill in front of a mountain of compote and fruit juice.>>

However, the primary objective of the responders is not only to provide food to vulnerable people, it is above all to establish human contact.

What all these people are experiencing is a disconnection, a form of isolation. No matter what level, whether in relation to their family, their community, their spirituality, it remains the main element of their evil. And this isolation generally comes from one or more traumasexplain Bradley Pierce, of Cree origin, who is part of a team from the Helping Spirit Lodge Society.

After loading meals into carts, street workers split into three groups.

Bradley Pierce is convinced of having a duty, a vocation: to help people. The man shares with his colleagues a life which has not always been easy, marked by pain allowing him to grasp the distress which emanates from Downtown Eastside.

>>Portrait of Bradley Pierce.>>
Bradley Pierce Photo: Radio-Canada / Ismaël Houdassine

years ago, I had an addiction to crystal meth“,”text”:”I too was able to experience at a very young age the feeling that my life was going nowhere. Between the ages of 14 and 17, I was addicted to crystal meth”}}”>I too was able to experience at a very young age the feeling that my life was going nowhere. Between the ages of 14 and 17, I was addicted to crystal methhe confides.

A short glossary to understand the crisis

  • Opioids refer to psychoactive substances used in pharmaceuticals for their analgesic properties. They can also induce a feeling of euphoria. Some, like morphine, codeine, and heroin, are natural derivatives of opium, while others, like fentanyl and methadone, are entirely synthetic.
  • Naloxonealso known by the trade name Narcan, is an opioid antidote that can be administered by nasal spray or injection during overdoses.
  • T3Or Tylenol 3, is a medicine that mixes acetaminophen and codeine. It is used as a painkiller. Improper use of Tylenol 3 can be dangerous, especially if mixed with alcohol.
  • Benzodiazepines also called benzo are a category of substances often used as sedatives or tranquilizers. They include temazepam, sold under the brand name Restoril, as well as lorazepam, sold under the brand name Ativan. Increasingly, benzodiazepines are being mixed with street fentanyl, making it even more dangerous.
  • THE crystal meth is the most potent form (over 80% purity) of methamphetamines, synthetic substances used primarily as a street drug for their psychoactive and stimulant effects.
  • Xylazineoften called “ tranq » is a tranquilizer mainly used in veterinary medicine. In humans, it can create serious skin ulcers and abscesses, even if it was not consumed by injection. This substance is almost always mixed with other drugs, primarily fentanyl. As it is not an opioid, naloxone has no effect on xylazine.

The thirty-year-old now claims to have been sober for 17 years. However, he considers having benefited from support which is not given to everyone here, to achieve this.

What changed my life was the chance to have had a family member who, when I felt like I was at the bottom of the barrel, came to me, listened to me and helped me. Said he loved me and was there for mehe says, moved.

This is my approach, every day. I strive to be the most positive, most human presence for these people. To give back to them what I was lucky enough to have been givenexplains Bradley.

Despite the gloomy weather, the neighborhood is lively. The siren of an emergency vehicle sounds in the distance. All the workers interviewed are unanimous: it is crucial to have indigenous stakeholders in the neighborhood.

I don’t know if I would call it a cultural approach, but it’s clear to me that the only way to really help someone is to have a holistic, big-picture, trauma-informed vision. Otherwise, we’re just putting a bandage on a wound that continues to fester.estimated Bradley.

>>A building with red robes on its windows.>>
At the corner of Main Street and Cordova, an organization hung red dresses in its windows. Photo: Radio-Canada / Ismaël Houdassine

This vision is about approaching people not by saying: What do you need? But rather by asking: Tell me about yourself, who are you, where are you from? Opening the door to: What happened to you?

Bradley looks up across the street where red dresses, symbols of missing and murdered indigenous women, hang from the windows of a building.

It is certain that by being indigenous ourselves, we are closer to certain traumas that those who are here may have experienced. »

A quote from Bradley Pierce, Helping Spirit Lodge Society team member
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