Times Colonist

The Reality of Pandora

- By Julian Daly

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, the 900 block of Pandora Ave in Victoria where Our Place has its community centre can be a distressin­g and scary place.

When I walk down Pandora, as I do every day, I see people sprawled out on the sidewalks, slipping in and out of consciousn­ess, and my heart breaks. I consciousl­y check they are breathing, that their skin isn’t turning blue from drug poisoning, knowing how many have died on our streets.

I see the despair, just as you do, and it fills me with the same sense of anger, frustratio­n and concern as I’m sure fills you.

I receive phone calls and messages almost daily from people who want us to do more, who say we are to blame for what’s happening on Pandora, or that we somehow enable and support it. The sad fact is that while we have control over what happens inside our building – which is a safe and well managed space providing meals, washrooms and medical supports – we have no control or jurisdicti­on over what happens outside our doors. Only the police and bylaw have jurisdicti­on there.

Frankly, I am as powerless to do anything about the systemic issues – unattended to mental health and addictions, and lack of appropriat­e housing – as any member of the public. Every staff member and volunteer at Our Place, perhaps more than anyone, wants to see a better outcome for those who are existing rough on Pandora. But all we can do is continue to raise our voices, pleading for more supports: housing, detox, recovery beds, complex care – even involuntar­y care for those folk whose needs are beyond our expertise.

It is only when these systemic issues are addressed that we will see real change on the block. The reality is we are in the middle of a crisis, and we need, as a whole society, to recognize it for what it is – and act.

If you could hold up a crystal ball and show a fiveyear-old that in 30 years they would be spread-eagled on a sidewalk, digging raw fingers into cracks in the sidewalk to find a crumb of spilled Meth, would they choose that life? I don’t believe so but, as a society, we aren’t providing any escape.

If we continue down this road, the death rate will climb, criminalit­y will increase, and despair will deepen.

Abandoning people to their addictions and mental health breakdowns on our streets is no longer tenable. We need to do more. We need to provide a way out for folk – and, believe me, most want it – a route to a better life.

In short, we need to treat the disease, not just the symptoms.

- Julian Daly is the CEO of Our Place Society

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