Remembering the lost as Vancouver observes International Overdose Awareness Day
'COVID has shown everyone what can be done when people are afraid [for] their lives,' says advocate
Activists, families and people who use drugs demanded action on the worsening overdose crisis at several events in Vancouver marking Overdose Awareness Day on Monday.
On the Downtown Eastside, Hastings Street was taken over between Main and Columbia streets by protesters who cut off traffic in the afternoon, held a barbecue and rallied in bright costumes.
Organizers said governments need to act now on the crisis which has killed more than 170 people in B.C. each month for three months in a row.
"The pace is frustrating, angering, disgusting to say the least," said Meriah Main, one of the organizers of the event on Hastings Street.
"COVID has shown everyone what can be done when people are afraid [for] their lives ... and drug users are afraid for their lives."
Main is with the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War, a group calling for drug decriminalization and a low-barrer, easily accessed safe supply of drugs to reduce the number of deaths.
Many health experts have added their voices to those calls.
Fentanyl has been called the main driver of overdose deaths but experts have said the toxicity of the illicit drug supply has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
Elsewhere in the city, on the Burrard Bridge, Deb Bailey also highlighted the need for a safe supply.
Bailey is with advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm, which is led by families who have lost loved ones to overdoses.
Bailey's daughter, Ola, nicknamed Izzy, died of an overdose in 2015 at 21 years of age after taking heroin laced with fentanyl.
On Monday, Bailey was among those who memorialized the victims of drug overdose by tying 1,035 pairs of shoes to the bridge's railing to represent the people who have died.
Bailey said the goal was to get enough shoes to represent the number of people who died in May, June and July — 526, according to the BC Coroners Service — but so many shoes were donated the organizers were able to represent the 911 people who've died during all of 2020, and then some.
"These people will never walk across the bridge again and they are from all walks of life," Bailey said.
"They are us. They are our brothers, mothers, sisters, uncles."
With files from Joel Ballard