For over a decade, calls for a stable, fixed-site needle exchange have fallen on deaf ears. A nod to the need for harm reduction services has reared its head at every meeting to discuss the city’s priorities with both paid consultants and concerned citizens echoing time and again the value of those services.
For years, we’ve known what’s needed, and last December the Vancouver Island Health Authority finally began to indicate that it might be willing to listen when it announced plans to boost staff and funding at its two existing service locations on Johnson and Pembroke Streets. Those of us wondering why we’ve waited ten years for a $500,000 bump in funding need only remember the political response that has followed every attempt at improving harm reduction services in recent memory.
The new services being offered are far from the needle exchange and safe consumption site that we’ve flirted with for years. In fact, VIHA’s caution has already drawn criticism from proponents of harm reduction services who say the health authority isn’t doing enough. In all likelihood, a few extra staff and additional funding won’t even increase the number of people who can access services at the two hubs.
Despite doing nothing to fuel the fears of those who have opposed harm reduction services in the past, mere weeks after making its announcement VIHA once again found itself quivering before a handful of concerned citizens. Last week, officials caved and held a meeting in the hopes that they might cease the opposition’s mantra of Not-In-My-Back-Yard.
As an arm of the province, VIHA would ideally be exempt from the squeaky-wheel politics that dominates the municipal arena. The events of last week and the paralysed expansion of The Capital’s harm reduction services over the past decade have proven the opposite.
Harm reduction services in Victoria continue to stagnate for want of anything other than a voice of opposition. When a handful of residents can drum up enough fear and loathing to silence the hundreds who need these services, it’s clear that our own support must become deafening before any change is made. M