British Columbia

Vancouver proposes $2.8 million grant to expand program pairing police with mental health nurses

Mayor Ken Sim and other leaders with the provincial government, the city of Vancouver and the regional health authority said they plan to work together to boost mental health services and address public safety issues.

Majority of funding will go to Vancouver Coastal Health, will see 58 new staff hired this year

A police chief in uniform walks alongside the Vancouver mayor who's wearing a blue button up shirt and a black wool jacket.
Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer, left, and Mayor Ken Sim, arrive for a news conference, in Vancouver, on Sunday, February 5, 2023. The City of Vancouver has announced $2.8 million in funding for Vancouver Coastal Health to bolster mental health outreach teams. (Darryl Dyck/the Canadian Press)

Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim has announced a proposed $2.8 million grant for Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) to hire 58 new staff this year to "bolster Vancouver's front-line mental health and public safety response." 

The proposed funding will be presented to council on Feb. 14. 

"We have an opportunity to set a new standard in North America for a modern and compassionate approach toward addressing the conflict and often interlinked challenges regarding public safety and mental health," said Sim.

The annual grant to VCH will grow to $8 million in future years and "may be used for more proactive and preventative services over time," according to a news release from the city. 

According to the City of Vancouver, the money will fund the following positions this year:

  • 32 new staff for a new non-police de-escalation team.
  • 12 new employees for Vancouver Coastal Health's Indigenous Programming unit.
  • 14 new full-time employees for the Vancouver Police Department's partnership service programs, which include the Car 87/88 team.

Vancouver Coun. Lisa Dominato said the range of programs involved was a benefit.

"I think this is a great spectrum of supports ... what we've heard from the public is that that we need a continuum of response services," she said.

"There are some areas and incidents where we don't need to have police ... obviously there are times when we're going to have higher level incident, and we may need some additional supports, but that's why you have the continuum of supports and response programs." 

The Car 87 program has been around in various forms since 1978. A second team, known as Car 88, has been on the streets since 2020, allowing the service to operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The new grant follows a motion that was passed on Nov. 22 as a part of various recommendations, directing city staff to allocate $8 million toward the hiring of new police officers and up to $8 million toward VCH mental health crisis response services.

Sim's party, ABC Vancouver, was elected on promises to hire 100 more police officers and 100 more mental health nurses to address public safety concerns.

'Inappropriate service' says advocate

Meenakshi Mannoe, the criminalization and policing campaigner for Pivot Legal Society, says the Car 87 program is "inadequate" and an "inappropriate service." 

She says issues of mental well-being are fundamentally health issues and should not involve police officers. 

"The public is told that they respond to mental health emergencies in the community," she said. "But community workers often describe how they call Car 87 [and] it never arrives."

Mannoe points to police wellness checks in Canada that have turned fatal in recent years and said Black, Indigenous and people of colour seem disproportionately affected by these types of severe outcomes.

A group of provincial officials arrive at a news conference in Vancouver. Tall, lanky Premier David Eby is in the centre wearing a grey wool jacket.
B.C. Premier David Eby, centre, and B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside, left, say they want to work with both the city of Vancouver and the federal government to address issues of mental health and public safety. (Darryl Dyck/the Canadian Press)

Province wants Ottawa's help

Premier David Eby, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside, Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer and VCH Chief Medical Health Officer Patricia Daly all attended Sunday's event.

Eby said during a recent meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he stressed the need for the federal government to be involved in a long-term plan to address housing, addictions, toxic drugs, public safety and mental health issues on the Downtown Eastside.

"We want our communities to be safer, and we want our communities to be healthier," he said.

Whiteside said the province hopes to bring the Car 87/88 model that's being expanded in Vancouver to other parts of the province.

On Jan. 30, the VicPD and Island Health launched a Co-Response Team that pairs a registered mental health clinician with a police officer to respond together to calls in Victoria and Esquimalt that involve a "significant mental health component." 

With files from the Canadian Press and Bethany Lindsay