The downtown eastside

Vancouver’s saddest neighborhood has been declining over the past few years – hard to believe this could be possible – despite the amount of money being spent on social and medical services there. There are more drugs and crimes and disease than ever.

And yet: It is worse than I thought. In a Vancouver Sun piece called The High Cost of Misery in the downtown eastside Pete McMartin writes:

It is not news that treatment of the addicted and mentally ill in the Downtown Eastside is expensive.

In a series of stories in 2014, Sun reporter Lori Culbert and I calculated that the 260 (!) social service agencies and social housing sites located within the borders of the DTES received and spent $360 million in 2013, or just under $1 million a day. Almost $265 million of that came from the three levels of government.

But for the first time — and this is new — a Simon Fraser University research team calculated, down to the tax dollar, the average costs incurred by individual offenders in the DTES.

The figures are demoralizing.

The research team, headed up by health science researcher Dr. Julian Somers, tracked just over 300 high-frequency offenders in the DTES during a five-year period. There were two subsets of these offenders: those sentenced to community supervision and those who had been put into custody. Across both groups, 99 per cent had been diagnosed with at least one mental disorder, while more than 80 per cent were dual-diagnosis patients dealing with substance abuse issues and at least one other mental disorder.

Those under community supervision incurred an average cost of $168,389 in health, social welfare and justice services over the five years, while those in the custody group incurred an average cost of $246,899.

All told, the cost of services provided to the two subset groups totalled $26.5 million. That’s just for 300 people. And just in cost to the provincial government.

Yet those numbers, Somers said, still did not reflect the entirety of the true cost of those individuals to the public. That true cost, which would be much, much greater than those figures cited above, did not include other justice costs such as police, crown counsel, defence or court services, nor did they include health services provided while in custody. Ambulance and hospital admittance services and subsidized shelter costs were also excluded.

2 Comments»

  sanjose61 wrote @

Any musings on solutions?

  Robert Basil wrote @

I am more puzzled than ever. It is hard for me to impugn, in a blanket fashion, the social service agencies as ineffective money hogs; I know more truly devoted helpers than I do puffed up and iffy “do gooders.” The cops are a mixed bag, too.

I have never seen such a volcano of mess, craving, and hurt – as well as real loyalty, to the death, and friendship – as I have in that neighborhood. It is an unquenchable mystery to me.


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