I am not a trained social worker and I have no scientific background upon which to base my opinion and attitude regarding low-barrier, harm-reduction projects, but I do have a wealth of experience in dealing with people suffering from abusive addictive problems.
I am totally in favour of providing realistic treatment and services, but only where that approach leads to success for those suffering from addictive, abusive use of drugs or alcohol or those suffering from mental illnesses.
What has led me to forming my current stance on these subjects is my own personal story, combined with the anecdotal evidence of stories of people whom I cherished but whose lives were lost on the altar of permissiveness and enablement, such as that promoted in low-barrier, harm-reduction models.
I am 76 years old and a recovering alcoholic with more than 50 years of sobriety behind me.
Until I was placed in a position where I was forced to quit drinking, I spent too many years being a pain in the rear to this community.
I was frequently in trouble, but I was always treated in a very permissive manner. In short, I was never held accountable for my own actions and shameful behaviour and acting out, which had resulted from various character defects combined with too much alcohol.
My anti-social activities came to a screeching halt when I crossed a line and a judge ceased offering me permissive solutions.
He sent me to jail, where I had no access to alcohol and was forced, for the first time, to accept the responsibility for my own actions.
You could say he got my attention in a meaningful way.
I was eventually released back into this same community, where I have since enjoyed the privileges and pleasures of a responsible lifestyle for more than 50 years.
In the years since, I have served in many capacities with public organizations, and even sat for six years on Maple Ridge municipal council.
My point in relating these things is simply to assure you that none of these successes would have been possible if I had continued to exist in a low-barrier, harm-reduction atmosphere, such as that proposed for the Quality Inn.
To relieve addicts and alcoholics from any demand to cease their addictive behaviour is only to guarantee the continuation of those activities.
In other words, if you tell drug addicts and alcoholics that it’s alright to continue their destructive lifestyles, that is exactly what they will do.
Public skepticism expressed prior to the opening of the temporary shelter has been validated by the continued drug use, prostitution, major and minor crimes and violence in and around the shelter. The drug overdose death rate is approaching epidemic proportions.
Too many needles, used condoms and other detritus of people with abusive addictions is still found regularly in the neighbourhood surrounding the shelter.
We have no reason to believe that using the same permissive approach at the Quality Inn will result in any improvements. With the increase in the number of residents at the Inn over that of the temporary shelter, the problems will only increase.
If it succeeds at any level, the type of project proposed for the Quality Inn must be moved to a different location. With the huge sums of money involved, it should be more than possible to design and build a facility that will meet the expressed needs for supportive shelters and, by choosing a more acceptable location, the chances of success will be greatly enhanced.
The March 19th rally at the Quality Inn drew hundreds of people wanting to peacefully express their opposition to the Ministry of Housing’s supportive living proposal for this site. Almost to a person, everyone seems in favour of treatment, but not at the Quality Inn site.
Hopefully their voices will be heard.
– Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.