Category "Coronavirus"

15Jul

Vancouver reopens crucial community facilities in the Downtown Eastside

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The City of Vancouver has re-opened three crucial community facilities that had reduced services months ago in response to COVID-19.

The Carnegie and Evelyne Saller Community Centres have reopened in the Downtown Eastside, the city said Wednesday in a news release, along with the Gathering Place Community Centre in Downtown Vancouver. All are now providing drop-in space and increased washroom access between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day.

The facilities, which mainly serve the city’s vulnerable and homeless population, have been inspected by health officials and approved for reopening. Drop-in space will be limited because of capacity restrictions.

“Reopening these community centres is a very positive step as they provide much-needed services and social connections for many of our residents,” said Sandra Singh, the City’s General Manager of Arts, Culture and Community Services.

“While the centres will look and feel different than prior to COVID-19, we are looking forward to welcoming community members back in modified ways and offering services such as access to wifi and mobile programming,” said Singh.

This is the first phase of reopening, while additional programs and services will be available in the coming months.

Timings for meals, laundry and showers can be found here.

6Jul

B.C. extends COVID-19 income, disability and senior assistance programs

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VICTORIA — B.C. will continue to offer COVID-19 financial support for income and disability clients, as well as monthly crisis supplements for low-income seniors, the government announced Monday.

The province has extended for two months its $300 monthly crisis supplement to low-income seniors, which also goes to income and disability clients who reside in special care facilities, said Social Development Minister Shane Simpson.

Recipients will not have to reapply, and the money will continue to flow automatically on cheques between July 22 and Aug. 26. The money is earmarked for British Columbians on provincial income, disability, senior’s or comfort assistance programs who aren’t receiving federal employment insurance or the $2,000 monthly Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The program started in April.

The B.C. government also extended a policy that prevents clawbacks of financial aid from those receiving both new federal COVID-19 assistance on top of provincial income or disability assistance.

20Jun

Campaign wants B.C. to keep $300 supplement after COVID-19 crisis ends

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Brent Frain and Sonjia Grandahl, roommates in Langley who both receive the disability benefit, have been independently advocating for the “300 to Live” campaign on social media.

Grandahl said the $300 is changing people’s lives.

“We’re living in a real state of poverty right now and with this COVID, everything has gone up in price,” Grandahl said. “(The supplement has) just helped out tremendously and we would like to keep it that way.”

Frain and Grandahl both said they’ve been able to buy healthier groceries, afford medications and worry less about their rent, which alone accounts for 59 per cent of their incomes.

The $300 supplement has meant people can live with dignity and finally afford accessibility equipment, too, Frain said.

“We want to make it permanent because the rates have been suppressed for so long,” he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

neagland@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/nickeagland

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19Jun

Don’t forget about kids: An open letter for children and youth during pandemic recovery

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The letter recommends six priorities for the task force, including:

1. Urgent action toward eliminating child poverty and toxic stress, which have been magnified by the pandemic and the pandemic response.

2. Addressing systemic discrimination and racism in public policy and service delivery that causes many children and youth to fall further through the cracks.

3. Prioritizing funding for accessible crisis and mental health supports for children, youth and parents, especially those with added challenges, including disability, family separation, and foster care.

4. Adherence to our commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including equitable access to outdoor play, learning and connection, as these are evidence-based supports for attachment, emotional regulation, cognitive development, and mental health.

28May

COVID-19: New substances used to cut street drugs much harder to ‘reverse’

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“There’s a real lack of skill providers out there and we don’t have a functioning addiction treatment system in B.C.,” she said.

Karen Ward, drug policy adviser for the City of Vancouver, said overdoses and deaths in the city’s Downtown Eastside skyrocketed when COVID-19 measures came into effect mid-March and shut down services and facilities in the neighbourhood.

“That was a lot, all at once, in a very short period of time,” she said. “April … it’s bad but compared to March it’s actually not as bad as I feared.”

Ward said she was heartened, however, to see the coroners report that average daily drug deaths had fallen during income assistance week in April to 3.9 deaths per day, after spiking to 6.6 deaths per day in March. It was the first time she could recall cheque week being less deadly than the rest of the month.

She believes $300 in provincial emergency aid for people on income and disability assistance, along with new banking measures implemented by Pigeon Park Savings and Vancity, played a role in saving lives.

“That (April) was the first time we got our $300 emergency supplements,” she said.

“It’s about poverty. So many of deaths during cheque week are about the fact that the government dumps a huge pile of money in a very small space, on some very desperate people.”

neagland@postmedia.com

twitter.com/nickeagland

17Apr

Harsha Walia: Our civil liberties matter during crises

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Instead of punitive state enforcement unreasonably curtailing civil liberties, we must prioritize policies that enhance equity and that eliminate structural disparities across race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, disability, class, income, and working and living conditions.

Flattening the COVID-19 curve through social distancing requires flattening the existing curve of social inequality. Pam Palmater, chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, calls for a specific Indigenous decarceration plan, as part of a federal-provincial-territorial-Indigenous government pandemic measure. An Indigenous decarceration plan is necessary to transform Canada’s colonial incarceration crisis, address the specific vulnerability of Indigenous prisoners, and avoid the wildfire of COVID-19 spreading within prisons and jails. Similarly, people who are homeless or without safe housing, especially women, youth, and LGBTQ people escaping violence, will find it virtually impossible to practise home-bound physical distancing measures. UN Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha stresses a robust housing policy is one of our best “frontline defences” against COVID-19.

Public health responses that emphasize civic responsibility, communicate clear and accessible information, and ensure everyone can meaningfully access healthcare and practice physical distancing are essential. Over-policing the pandemic, however, simply won’t work. The choices we make, now, will determine what the world will look like when we come out of this crisis.

Harsha Walia is executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

21Mar

COVID-19: Ministers announce supports for people struggling and poor

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He said they are working closely with about 2,000 agencies and non-profits delivering social services to make sure they have what the need to operate through the pandemic.

The B.C. government will use a “crisis supplement model” to support people in income and disability assistance, and is reducing bureaucracy that slows down the delivery of services, Simpson said.

He said they are also forming a plan for assistance cheque-issue day next week. Drug overdoses and deaths spike on the last Wednesday of each month.

“We know this is a challenging time for all British Columbians,” Simpson said.

“It’s a challenging time around the anxiety that’s created by this virus, and the anxiousness, and that is even more challenging for people who are living vulnerable. For people who are poor, people with disabilities, people who are on the street, the homeless, it’s an extremely challenging time for that population in particular.”

11Mar

Daphne Bramham: Searching for happiness in the novel coronavirus era

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This is a particularly joyless March and what have we got to look forward to? April, which T.S. Eliot called the cruelest month.

There’s angst all around. It’s impossible to have even a casual conversation with a stranger without the dreaded COVID-19 virus being raised, let alone dinner with friends or a few hours on social media.

We don’t know whether to be afraid or whether to risk being reckless by going to a restaurant, hockey game or pick up a friend at the airport.

We’re worried about the unknown ‘what next’ because even when there is a lull in the seemingly endless news coverage of all things viral, there’s so much more bad news.

The stock market collapse, the joyless battle of the American grandpas for president, the oil shock caused by a seemingly crazed prince, continuing migrant crises in Europe and the Americas, riots in India and so on and so on.

I want to run away from it all. Except for the virus, I would literally have been packing my suitcase right now for Bhutan — the first place on Earth to put happiness before the economy.

But COVID-19 put a stop to that.

My trip was postponed because of the turmoil of changed and cancelled flights, not fear of catching the virus. Ironically, it was only in cancelling that we discovered we’d been rebooked on a return flight that left a day later, took 35 hours with three stops and landed us in Detroit with no indication of how we’d get home.

I’m relieved, but grounded and surrounded with fear of the unknown. How do I — how do any of us — find happiness now when it seems there’s nowhere safe to go?

Naturally, I turned to Google. It’s perhaps a sign of the times that among the first quotes that came up was this misanthropic one: “Happiness comes from peace. Peace comes from indifference.”

That misanthropic recipe from tech entrepreneur Naval Ravikant belies the research, which says the opposite. Happiness comes from engagement, social contact, a feeling of belonging.

Then, up popped Marie Kondo’s exhortation to “spark joy” by decluttering. I nixed that as an immediate solution. But it’s something to keep in mind if ever the time comes for self-isolation.

Beyond that are dozens of others advising that the route to happiness is to find one’s “authentic self” or one’s “inner awesomeness.”

I retreated to the kitchen and put on a pot of soup. But rather than the usual Zen of chopping vegetables as the stock bubbled, it reminded me that I couldn’t find any lentils on the grocery store shelf Monday. Should I join the panicked rush? What if the crisis is real?

Most of us are urban-dwelling, just in time people. Grasshoppers, not ants. We’re a frail lot too when you consider the Inuit and Dene in the north, Andean highlanders in the south, nomadic Mongolians or our ancestors.

That’s why I travel, to see how others live. It’s how I’ve come to be on six of the seven continents and travelled in more than 40 countries. It’s why Bhutan beckoned and not a Caribbean beach.

It’s why on a gloomy, rainy day with a case of fake jet lag from the time change, I went looking and found happiness at the Museum of Anthropology. Pulling open drawers, there are small things of beauty and purpose. Towering poles are testament to survival and renaissance against astounding odds.

Wandering aimlessly, it’s impossible not to see the interconnectedness of human imagination and endeavour from the fearsome to the sublimely decorative to the practical.

(If fear or the virus keeps you home, you might want to try it virtually. The collection is online at http://collection-online.moa.ubc.ca/)

There were spears, swords, fertility figures, wedding dresses, bowls, spoons, as well as religious objects and necklaces with charms meant to ward off the unforeseen, the unpredictable and the deadly that have always stalked us.

On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I took a tour of Mary King’s Close where in 1645 the pneumonic or ‘black’ plague stalked the residents of the crowded underground tenements.

Their doctors dressed in long leather cloaks with large brimmed hats and wore grotesque, beaked masks made of tin and filled with herbs to repel the evil smells that were thought to carry disease. The sight of today’s health-care workers in HAZMAT suits, N-95 masks, visors and gloves are not less disturbing, albeit far more effective.

Humans understand science better now than in the past. With every new outbreak from HIV/AIDS to Ebola to SARS, the time from first detection to getting it under control has improved. Yet, the unseen and the unknowable remains no less frightening to us than it was to a 17th century Scot or a 19th century Haida.

Where once people flocked to church looking for benediction and salvation, these days they head to Costco.

But for some peace and perspective? Try some homemade soup and some quiet time at a museum … Just don’t touch your face and make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before you leave.

dbramham@postmedia.com

twitter:@bramham_daphne

11Mar

Better protections needed for health-care workers during COVID-19: advocates

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Canada’s first death from the novel coronavirus has highlighted the urgent and often ignored need for better staffing at long-term care facilities where elderly residents are especially vulnerable to the disease, says the head of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

Linda Silas said the need has become “top of mind” following the death on Sunday of a man in his 80s at a care home in North Vancouver, where another patient has contracted COVID-19. One of four care aides who contracted the illness there is in hospital and two relatives of another are also been sick.

Discussions about preparedness were focused on emergency rooms, critical care and public health units, she said.

“A week ago we were talking about ‘Is the acute-care sector ready?’” Silas said. “Everyone’s now talking about, ‘What about long-term care?’ ”

More infections of health-care workers leading to 14 days of quarantine would mean greater staff shortages that could leave frail patients, who often have chronic illnesses, at higher risk, Silas said, adding staffing levels are already affected by outbreaks of seasonal influenza.

“When it hits a long-term care facility, it’s always more of a crisis than if it hits even your community or hospital. We’ve always known it’s a fragile population with any kind of illness and this is one of those where we have to pay particular attention,” she said of COVID-19.

Silas said the federation has recommended 4.5 hours of care by registered and licensed practical nurses a day, for each resident in long-term care facilities in Canada.

The actual level of nursing is about three hours, with some provinces, including Ontario and New Brunswick, among the worst as few nurses choose to work in long-term care jobs, she said.

As well, there are shortages of care aides, also called personal support workers, which adds more stress to a challenging work environment, said Silas.

“The working conditions are very difficult. You’re working short all the time, you’re never guaranteed registered nurses and often your only option is to send your patient to the hospital when often it’s not what they need and what’s best for them,” she said.

“And your personal care workers are not often permanent employees. They work casual or part time and they work in different facilities so there’s always a turnover.”

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, said less than 50 per cent of staff in long-term care homes work in just one facility and support workers are also employed in multiple facilities.

“Some of them work in three places,” she said, adding a government directive during the SARS crisis in 2003 required nurses to work in only one facility to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said after announcing the death this week that an infected care aide from the same facility is believed to have worked at two other facilities.

“We know that whether it’s care workers or nurses, even physicians, we work in many different health authorities, many different facilities sometimes. That is part of the ongoing investigation at the Lynn Valley care home, to find out exactly where everybody worked and make sure that the other facilities are investigated.”

Silas said a big concern is the lack of employment insurance sick leave benefits for some support workers compared with nurses.

Business and other labour groups have urged the federal government to ease access to such benefits, which the government appears open to doing, along with tax credits and other breaks as part of the federal response.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said the government was looking at taking some steps to help affected workers and the health-care system.

Jennifer Whiteside, spokeswoman for the Hospital Employees’ Union, said care aides in British Columbia work in a “fragmented” system, with some in part-time and casual jobs at various facilities run by either private contractors or health authorities.

Sick leave benefits may be as few as five to seven sick days a year versus 18 days offered by health authorities, Whiteside said, adding aides having to go into quarantine could face financial hardship because of their lower pay levels.

“Their sick leave will be wiped out. They won’t even have enough to cover one period of self (quarantine) should that become necessary and certainly not enough to cover them should they actually become sick ),” she said.

“If a large number get sick then we’ll be having some challenges. There’s no question that a situation like this does really bring into sharp relief some of the challenges we have in the system around how we manage the care-aide labour force.”

Isobel Mackenzie, advocate for seniors in British Columbia, said the job of care aides has long been undervalued and the novel coronavirus may create awareness about the need for change.

“I think what this is going to highlight, and this is a conversation for after we’ve dealt with the crisis, is the different ways in which these care homes are staffed. We need all licensed care homes to be doing things exactly the same under the direction of the officer of the public health officer,” she said.

“How are we going to deal with the fact that some people are going to get paid while they’re off sick and some people aren’t? How are we going to handle the fact that they are working potentially for multiple employers?”

The issue of care aides who travel to various private homes must also be considered for the safety of the wider community, Mackenzie said.

“That’s where we’re going to have to be ever vigilant around monitoring and managing the situation,” she said. “(They) may be providing (seniors) with their medications that they absolutely need and if we don’t go there they aren’t going to get their medications.”

9Mar

Daphne Bramham: Canada’s other public health crisis also needs urgent attention

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There is a very real and deadly health crisis in B.C. from which two people died yesterday and two more will likely die today, tomorrow and the days after that.

It’s not COVID-19, and no news conference was hastily called to talk about it.

Most of those dead and dying are blue-collar guys in what should be the prime of their lives.

This is the reality as B.C. lurches into the fifth year of an opioid overdose crisis. It’s a seemingly unending emergency that by the end of 2019 had already killed 5,539 people here and more than 13,900 across Canada.

Five years in, this crisis has become normalized, with the only certainty as we face another day is that first responders are now better at resuscitating victims because, year over year, the calls have only continued to increase.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed his top ministers to a committee tasked with responding to the COVID-19 crisis. At that point, Canada had only 30 confirmed cases. Of the 21 B.C. cases, four of the patients have fully recovered.

Not to belittle the concerns about COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic, but with nearly 14,000 dead already, no committee — high-level or otherwise — has yet been struck to devise a national addictions strategy that would deal not only with opioids, but also the biggest killer, which is alcohol. A 2019 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 10 Canadians die every day from substance use, and three-quarters of those deaths are alcohol-related.

During the 2019 election, the issue flared briefly after Conservatives placed ads — mainly through ethnic media — claiming that Trudeau’s Liberals planned to legalize all drugs, including heroin.

Already beleaguered, Trudeau not only denied it, he quickly disavowed the resolution overwhelmingly passed at the party’s 2018 convention that called on the Canadian government to treat addiction as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services, and decriminalize personal-use possession of all drugs, with people diverted away from the criminal courts and into treatment.

Trudeau disavowed it again this week when a Liberal backbencher’s private member’s bill was put on the order paper.


Liberal member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (in front) pictured in 2018.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Depending on how you read Bill C-236, it’s either calling for decriminalization or legalization. Regardless, the fact that Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s bill will be debated at least gets it on the political agenda because unless there are some major changes, Canadians are going to continue dying at these unacceptably high rates that have already caused the national life expectancy to drop.

Erskine-Smith, an Ontario MP from the Beaches-East York riding, favours a Portugal-style plan of which decriminalization plays only a small part.

But parliamentary rules forbid private member’s bills from committing the government to any new spending, so he said his bill could only narrowly focus on decriminalization.

The slim bill says charges could be laid “only if … the individual cannot be adequately dealt with by a warning or referral (to a program agency or service provider) … or by way of alternative measures.”

Erskine-Smith disagreed with the suggestion that it gives too much discretionary power to police — especially since in B.C., it’s prosecutors, not police, who determine whether charges are laid.

Still, what he proposes is quite different from what happens in Portugal.

There, police have no discretionary power. People found with illicit drugs are arrested and taken to the police station where the drugs are weighed, and the person is either charged with possession and sent to court or diverted to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use to meet with social workers, therapists and addictions specialists who map out a plan.

Since private members’ bills rarely pass, Erskine-Smith doesn’t hold out much hope for his.

It created a firestorm on social media, with some recovery advocates pitted against advocates for harm reduction, including full legalization.

Related

Federal Conservatives also repeated their trope that drug legalization is part of Trudeau’s secret agenda.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s United Conservative government inflamed some harm-reduction advocates with the release of a report on the adverse social and economic impacts of safe consumption sites, even though it didn’t recommend shutting them down.

The report acknowledged that they play an important role in a continuum of care, but it also called for beefed-up enforcement to lessen the chaos that often surrounds them.

The committee questioned some data provided to them that suggested Lethbridge — population 92,730 — may be the world’s most-used injection site.

The committee also questioned why some operators report all adverse events, including non-life-threatening ones as overdoses, leaving the impression that without the sites “thousands of people would have fatally overdosed.”

Among its recommendations are better data collection using standardized definitions as well as better tracking of users to determine whether they are being referred to other services.

More than a year ago, Canadians overwhelmingly told the Angus Reid Institute that they supported mandatory treatment for opioid addiction.

Nearly half said they were willing to consider decriminalization. Nearly half also said that neither Ottawa nor the provinces were doing enough to ease the epidemic.

It seems Canadians are eager for change even if they’re not yet certain what it should look like. The only ones who seem reluctant are the politicians.

dbramham@postmedia.com

twitter.com/bramham_daphne

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