VANCOUVER – One year after a report revealed the tragic life and death of an aboriginal teenager in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the British Columbia government has committed $1.2 million to help youth in the troubled neighbourhood.
But the province’s representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, said the funding falls short of what is needed to address the problems facing kids like Paige, the 19 year old at the centre of Turpel-Lafond’s May 2015 report.
“Anything’s better than nothing, but this is pretty minuscule,” Turpel-Lafond said. “It still doesn’t give me a lot to turn to the kids that are on the street today and say, ‘Something different has arrived.’”
Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux announced Tuesday that $1.2 million, earmarked in the latest budget, would go toward services for at-risk youth in the Downtown Eastside.
She said $800,000 will fund a dedicated adolescent-services unit in the impoverished neighbourhood, focusing on teens caught in a cycle of intravenous drug use, homelessness and prostitution.
Eight new positions will be added to the unit, plus two more with a recently created rapid response team, while $400,000 will permit partner organizations to expand outreach services for youth.
The changes, which follow a ministry review of the files of 124 young people around the Downtown Eastside, also include plans for the development of a low-barrier shelter for the most troubled youth in the area.
The shelter would have a maximum of five beds and is targeted to open in late 2017.
Cadieux said other shelters require entrants to stop using alcohol or drugs or promise to enter a detox program, which can push away high-risk youth. The aim of a low-barrier or “no questions asked” shelter is to gain kids’ trust so staff can help them access services when they’re ready.
“I think it’s very difficult for most of us to understand the draw of street life in a disadvantaged neighbourhood, and it’s even more difficult to understand why a young person would refuse to take advantage of services that are available to them,” she told reporters on a conference call.
“But it does happen, and when it does, we’ll be there like never before to try to catch that young person in a moment of clarity, in a moment of calm.”
Cadieux’s announcement comes almost exactly one year after Turpel-Lafond published “Paige’s Story: Abuse, Indifference and a Young Life Discarded.” The report blamed the teen’s overdose death on “persistent inaction from front-line professionals and an indifferent social care system.”
Last week, Turpel-Lafond published a new special report on an unnamed youth, in which she criticized the province’s response to “Paige’s Story.”
Turpel-Lafond said on Tuesday five shelter beds in 2017 was not nearly enough to meet the need. She also said she was concerned that a low-barrier shelter was not suitable for young people.
There are only 20 addictions beds for adolescents in the entire province, she added.
“It’s a bit of a perfect storm at the moment. I think we’re seeing the face of it, and Paige was one of those faces that we talked about a year ago.”
Doug Donaldson, Opposition NDP critic for children and family development, pointed out that Cadieux said 20 of the 124 youth around the Downtown Eastside are considered extremely high-risk, yet the province is only adding five beds.
“It’s not even a half measure, it’s a quarter measure,” he said. “Here we are a year after the Paige report, and the minister is not even addressing the need that exists today with this announcement.”
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