Thanks again to Dan Rather Reports on HD Net. If you have HDTV, then you need to be watching this channel! Not only are the Tuesday night news programs just spectacular, but they also feature some fantastic music and movies. This week’s program was fabulous from beginning to end, but I am going to focus on the story in the middle with a quick summary because it really opened my eyes. From the link I provided you can watch the episode (#307) online or download a transcript to get the full impact.
If you love watching the pomp and circumstance of the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Olympics as I do, then most likely you remember this scene from the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Games when the Olympic flag was passed on the mayor of the next host city, Vancouver for 2010:
Mayor Sam Sullivan. A truly courageous and visionary man who became a quadriplegic after a skiing accident when he was only 19. He is the mayor of this truly stunning city which I was lucky to visit a couple of times on cruises as a teenager:
As Dan Rather described it, one of the most beautiful and wealthy cities in the world. It seemed a perfect choice for hosting the Winter Games. However, Mayor Sullivan has a challenge in front of him because it turns out that the Beauty has a Beast inside. Specifically, the East side:
From the HDNet transcript (emphasis mine):
THIS IS THE SINGLE POOREST NEIGHBORHOOD IN CANADA, ONE
OF THE ROUGHEST AREAS IN ALL OF NORTH AMERICA. ONE IN THREE
RESIDENTS HERE IS HIV POSITIVE. THE RATE OF HEPATITIS C IS 70
PERCENT – PUTTING VANCOUVER ON A PAR WITH BOTSWANA WHEN IT
COMES TO INFECTION RATES
Wow! I had no idea of course. They go on to describe how the confluence of a port city where drugs can easily come in and mild winter weather has made Vancouver the Drug Center of Canada. Homeless addicts flocked here over time. The shared needles and shot up right there on the streets out in the open. They still do, but Sam Sullivan is trying to find a humane way to clean that up. Not the Atlanta solution (put the homeless on buses just before the games start and simply move them to another city temporarily), but a more permanent solution that helps the addicts and the city. A solution that I doubt would ever fly in the good ole’ US of A, but which to me is very intriguing and one I will now follow more closely because I love it when people push the envelope and find a way to try new ideas and solutions to old problems. Because, as one person put it on the telecast, the War on Drugs which has been raging for decades is just Not Working. It’s time to try something new. So, here is the Vancouver solution:
The Insite safe drug center. A state funded facility in the heart of the east side where drug users can go to shoot up. They have to bring their own drugs (still purchase illegally on the streets), but then they are provided with clean paraphernalia and a safe place to get high under the watchful eye of a nurse. In addition, upstairs from this is a detox center. The detox center contains rooms where addicts can stay to get clean along with medical and psychological support. It is almost always full and when a bed opens up, it will most likely be filled that day. While there are still users on the streets, that number has declined significantly in the area around the Insite center. I loved what one user said when Dan Rather asked him if this whole process wasn’t just coddling the addicts:
“The thing is dead people don’t detox. We’ve got to keep them alive long enough for them
to make the decision to get out. And this will keep them alive long enough to get that
strategy in place. “
It’s a very controversial program of course. Like I said, it’s pushing that envelope! But IMHO it is a worthy experiment. Why push these people aside as if they are just so much trash? No, shine the light on it. Find long term solutions – and I don’t think throwing them in jail is a long term solution. Neither is busing them out of town to artificially make your city look pretty. Kudos to Mayor Sam Sullivan. I look forward to the 2010 games and hopefully some follow up on this story and the Insite experiment.