SFU study suggests 300 offenders on Downtown Eastside cost $26.5M in services

A new study from Simon Fraser University outlines the expensive cost of care for a core group of people frequently involved with the justice system.

Researcher says more services targeting people with concurrent health issues are needed

A new study from SFU says a core group of 300 offenders cost millions of dollars in services.

A new study from Simon Fraser University outlines the expensive cost of care for a core group of people frequently involved with the justice system. 

Health sciences researcher Dr. Julian Somers and his team tracked 300 offenders who often received support from healthcare providers and social services. After five years, they found the group cost tax payers up to $26.5 million, or between $168,000 and $247,000 each.

Somers said the findings don't surprise him, but he hopes policy makers will understand that the current system isn't working as well as it could.

SFU researcher Julian Somers says his study highlights the need for more targeted services for people with concurrent mental health and addiction issues. (CBC)

"There are recently federal, provincial, certainly municipal investments. Investments by the health authority that are following good evidence. It's just that there's still obviously room for improvement," he said. 

Among the 300 high-frequency service users, 99 per cent had been diagnosed with a mental disorder and 80 per cent also had problems with substance abuse. 

The researcher said he hopes his study will change funding models to cater more towards people who have concurrent issues with substance abuse and mental disorders.

To end what he calls "chronic revolving door syndrome," Somers said there should be shared accountability between services so there's actually someone to turn to when those individuals fall back into trouble.

Not all programs a failure

Social services centres in the downtown eastside said they're concerned about the release of the study. They're worried the report will give the impression all programs on the Downtown Eastside are failing.

"I worry about reports like this being misconstrued," said Mebrat Beyene with the Wish Drop-In Centre

"The blanket assumption that it's a failure across the board. I wouldn't say that it's a failure."

Mebrat Beyene says many programs offered on the Downtown Eastside work well for a lot of people. (CBC)

Beyene said she has seen a lot of progress in the ways services are delivered to some of Vancouver's most vulnerable people. 

"To get out of that cycle requires solutions that are as complicated as the problems," she said, warning that it isn't necessary to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." 

France-Emmanuelle Joly with the Vancouver Women's Health Collective shares the same concerns. She said for many on the Downtown Eastside, the services in place right now work.

But she admits that for the 300 who do face persistent problems, the current system clearly isn't working. She said much of that has to do with organizations having to cater to a narrow set of criteria to get funding from the government.

"Our governments are not necessarily taking into consideration ... how to bridge the different needs," she said. 

With files from Kamil Karamali

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