Closure of critical health centre hits Downtown Eastside hard
By Lora Grindlay, The Province
The sudden closure of the downtown Eastside’s Health Contact Centre has left volunteers from other agencies scrambling to provide late-night support for drug addicts.
But they say they have no idea how long they can afford to do so.
The centre provided some medical care for wounds, was open all night and was considered the first point of contact with the health system for drug addicts and homeless people in the area.
The Vancouver Coastal Health authority will save about $700,000 by closing the centre.
Aiyanas Ormond, speaking for the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, said his agency’s office at 380 East Hastings St. is now open from 4 p.m. to midnight, offering clean needles, toilets, phones and coffee.
It usually closes at 4 p.m.
Ormond said a crew of VANDU volunteers, many of whom manned the needle exchange at the Contact Centre, are now working out of his group’s office.
Forty-eight people used the washrooms Sunday night, Ormond said, but he expects many more once word spreads.
“We [are staying open] mainly out of the sense of crisis. There’s no question there’s a need,” he said. “People relied on the service.”
Vancouver Coastal Health closed the Contact Centre at the Roosevelt Hotel on May 3.
Vancouver Coastal Health, which ran the drop-in since 2001, said the service was duplicated by numerous other programs in the area.
But Harsha Walia of the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre called the centre “a critical emergency service that is not replicated in any other way.”
“People will still need emergency care. They will just end up in a hospital. People will be calling 911,” she said.
Without any extra funding, it’s not known how long VANDU will be able to run the emergency service, Ormoand said.
About 300 people protested the closure at Main and Hastings Streets during rush hour Monday, and another rally was held outside the Columbia Street Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre Tuesday.