British Columbia

Downtown Eastside residents worse off despite costly programs, SFU study finds

Despite all the shelters and health facilities available to people in the DTES, the area is also rife with substance use, crime, STIs and poverty — therefore not providing effective recovery for some, the study reports.

Study also found rate of people arriving in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood has tripled in the last decade

A new SFU study finds many in the Downtown Eastside migrated to the troubled neighbourhood from elsewhere, and their lives didn't improve despite all the services available to them. (The Canadian Press)

Costly programs designed to benefit residents of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside aren't improving their lives, according to an SFU study.

Despite all the programs available to them, it says their lives have actually become worse.

The Simon Fraser University study, published Jan. 7 in the online medical journal BMJ Open, also found the number of people coming to the Downtown Eastside from outside Vancouver has tripled over the last decade — from 17 to 52 per cent.

It says residents living there and experiencing chronic homelessness and mental health issues, migrated to the troubled neighbourhood from elsewhere in the province and country.

High concentration of services not much help

Lead researcher and SFU professor Julian Somers said the study examined the administrative records of 433 people to determine where they had been living before and what kind of services they had been receiving.

Despite the high concentration of beneficial programs such as shelters, food, street nurses, low rent accommodation and drop-in health facilities, the study reported the participants "experienced significant personal decline rather than recovery, as evidenced by their involvement with the criminal justice system, large increases in acute care and prolonged homelessness."

"We're talking about individuals who have profound vulnerabilities, especially when they're left to their own devices on the street," Somers told B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko.

"They're vulnerable to things like blood-borne infectious diseases, predation and assault and various kinds of substantial hardships that indeed would throw most well-functioning people off the rails."

Study suggests putting resources elsewhere

The study authors wrote that the research suggests that efforts should also be focused elsewhere and not just in areas where street homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness are the most visible.

"We can be a bit more targeted and strategic in thinking about where to allocate resources based on need," Somers said.

This paper comes on the heels of another recent study by Somers published in BioMed Central.

That study found that roughly 300 individuals in the Downtown Eastside, who were frequently involved with the justice system, cost taxpayers up to $26.5 million despite five years of support from healthcare providers and social services.

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: New SFU study finds many in the Downtown Eastside migrated from elsewhere


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