“Come with me,” the mother on the other end of the phone cried. “Come with me to find my son. To the shelter, to the hospital, to the tents. Come with me to find him!”
What she couldn’t see were the tears that filled my eyes. Her desperate cries piercing through my helplessness. I am an MLA, shouldn’t I be able to help?
When the 6 complex care beds opened in Kelowna, my constituency assistant reached out immediately to find a bed for this mom’s son, but sadly they were filled before they even opened.
My journey trying to help the homeless crisis began 15 years ago as a builder, working with the City of Kelowna on their four pillars plan.
This strategy was to create more affordable housing throughout the city, along with subsidized housing for those with greater need.
My work continued onto the Interior Health Authority board, where I chaired the 'Special Priorities Committee’ overseeing the mental health and substance use issues. During that time, I worked with our current mayor, Tom Dyas, on a downtown initiative to try to help with the overdose crisis.
It was then that I began to investigate the Portugal model of care, known as SICAD, and read about Dr. Joao Goulao work as the architect of this system of treatment.
I travelled to Portugal twice, once in 2018 and once this last fall, to continue that investigation and try to understand more fully how their success in treatment, rehabilitation, and care for the mentally ill was achieved.
As we are all aware, mental health and substance use is a critical issue that affects individuals and families throughout British Columbia and Kelowna.
In 2022, nearly 2300 people lost their lives in BC to their addiction, 87 people in Kelowna alone.
Clearly, what the BCNDP government is doing is not working, and the recent decriminalization of drugs without treatment is going to be disastrous.
Look no further than to Oregon to see how that has played out. After decriminalization their overdose deaths have risen, not lowered.
In fairness, Portugal’s SICAD model includes decriminalization and safe supply, but that is not the focus.
In 2018, SICAD’s Dr. Joao Goulao, spoke with the Vancouver Sun about the importance of treating drug use as a public health issue.
He noted that decriminalization is not enough, and that comprehensive care and support must be in place to help individuals overcome their challenges and live healthy, productive lives.
This is why I am so excited about the announcement last week about how a Kevin Falcon led government would resource mental health care and supports. More residential care, more treatment beds, more complex care and wrap-around services.
As someone who has long advocated for wrap-around supports, I know that this system of care is long overdue.
Wrap-around supports are crucial for individuals with mental health challenges as they provide comprehensive care and services that address their unique needs.
This includes access to health care, psychiatry, counselling, occupational and physical therapy, rehabilitation, housing, employment, and education, among other things.
It's not enough to simply decriminalize drug use, set up safe injection sites and ‘wet’ housing and hope for the best.
We need to make sure that individuals have access to these additional supports they need to succeed and lead fulfilling lives.
We need a program that takes those experiencing homeless to wholeness, and give them community.
The ‘Better is Possible’ plan announced by Kevin Falcon is the first plan that I have seen that does just that.
My question to you this week is this:
Do you support Kevin Falcon’s plan to address our mental health & addictions crisis?
I love hearing from you each week, and I read every email.
You can email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call my office at 250-712-3620.