British Columbia

Vancouver approves spending $2.2M to address overdose crisis

Mayor's Office says the spending is the "first round" of a total of $3.5 million raised from a property tax hike.

Councillors from Vision Vancouver, Green Party vote in favour, NPA votes against

Vancouver firefighters respond to an overdose victim on the Downtown Eastside. The bulk of the $2.2 million allocated Wednesday — $1.9 million of it — went to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services’ mobile medic unit. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC News)

The City of Vancouver approved a plan on Wednesday to spend $2.2 million of $3.5 million raised from property taxes to address the ongoing overdose crisis.

The bulk of the money is going to support for Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services's mobile medic unit, accounting for $1.9 million of it.

It will also go to a new Strathcona community policing centre, support for 11 other community policing centres and expanded naloxone training for city staff.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and all Vision Vancouver councillors voted in favour of the spending, as did Green Coun. Adriane Carr, while the three NPA councillors voted against it.

Mayor Robertson, in a statement, is quoted as saying the City is doing "more than its fair share" to address the crisis.

"We're at a breaking point — we need urgent investments from the B.C. and federal governments to provide expanded access to addictions treatment, substitution therapy and detox, which are crucial to saving lives," the statement read.

Coun. Kerry Jang also called for more from senior levels of government.

"The province, their response has been really slow and this is why the city needed to take these extraordinary measures," he said. "We haven't seen treatment on demand. We are very slow in being able to test drugs on the street.

"There seems to be no coordination between the federal government, the provincial government and local government." 

In December, Vancouver city council was set to debate a budget that included a 3.4 per cent property tax increase, but that was raised to 3.9 per cent in order to raise a total of $3.5 million to be spent on the overdose crisis.

One aspect of that spending, the Strathcona community policing centre, has proven controversial.

While the Strathcona Residents' Association and the Strathcona BIA support the centre, advocacy groups including the Carnegie Community Action Project and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users say more policing is not the answer for the neighbourhood.

"What we heard today [from staff and police] was how the new community policing centres will operate," Jang said.

"If you're a drug user, they'll help get you treatment. If you're overdosing, they can be out and help you. ... It's not a policing model, it's more of a volunteer model providing eyes and ears on the street."

The mayor's office says the $2.2 million is the first round of spending the $3.5 million total. Jang says future allocations may include mental health support for first responders and other frontline staff.

In 2016, Vancouver saw 214 overdose deaths, the highest of any municipality in B.C., while the province saw 914 such deaths in all.