Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this committee’s important work. My name is Michelle Bell and I am the Director of Child, Youth and Family Advocacy for The Federation of Community Social Services of BC.
The Federation represents a group of over 155 community-based social services organizations serving more than 250 communities across BC, both on and off recognized First Nations territories. Our member organizations represent nearly $1 billion of non-charitable revenue and offer a broad range of services and programs that support BC’s families, children and youth, seniors, people living with addictions or mental health issues, and low-income families and individuals.
The community social services sector addresses issues that many people in society prefer to ignore or avoid. We care for those who need care, support those who have no one else, and advocate on behalf of the people and populations who have been left out of the policies and programs that cater to the more visible and dominant groups in society.
The people we serve—low-income families, people with disabilities, kids in care, seniors, folks struggling with their mental health or substance use problems—are often blamed for their situation, as if it were a choice or a character flaw rather than a symptom of colonialism, racism, bureaucracy, and stigma. But we benefit from the laws and systems that neglect them and it is our duty to right those wrongs.
What is needed
We need to address that inequity. We need to look at the barriers to substance use treatment and identify which groups struggle to get access and why. We need to focus as much energy and attention on suburbia and schoolyards as we do on emergency rooms and SROs. We need a broadly-accessible safe supply to slow down the tragic death toll but we also need investments and cross-ministry collaboration to prevent the damage to young lives that leads our youths to problematic substance use in the first place.
Our recommendations for addressing the illicit drug toxicity and overdose crisis are tangible solutions but they require and demand a fundamental shift in how this government understands and approaches substance use treatment and prevention.
Recommendation 1: Review and revisit A Pathway to Hope and invest in community-identified priority actions.
The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions should work with the community social services sector (and the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Children and Family Development as needed) to evaluate A Pathway to Hope and the 2021 Progress Report and identify priority actions for investment and a framework for implementing changes and investments. A more balanced system of care needs investments in a full spectrum of services—upstream services and interventions for children and young adults in addition and downstream services like crisis intervention and long-term treatment beds. An updated framework would move beyond prevention and treatment to long-term wellbeing and would be anti-oppressive, trauma-informed, and community-led.
Recommendation 2: Invest in community-led, multi-disciplinary outreach and intervention teams.
The government should provide ongoing funding for collaborative teams co-led by community social service providers. Decision-makers from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development should be involved and engaged to understand and help address community-specific needs and gaps in crisis-response services.
Recommendation 3: Embrace and expand safe supply initiatives by whatever means necessary.
You can’t stop drug use; you can only make it unsafe. Abstinence-based approaches have and will continue to fail. We understand this principle very well when it comes to other things (you can’t prevent abortion; you can only make it unsafe), but until this truth is understood and accepted by decision-makers, kids and siblings and parents will keep dying from toxic drugs unnecessarily. This government must invest in broad, accessible, and immediate safe supply. During the COVID-19 public health crisis, our province went above and beyond to prevent every death. The overdose crisis demands just as urgent a response.