The executive director of Lift Community Services wants to spotlight the good work that supportive housing projects do across B.C.

Stuart Clark is speaking out after news of the Powell River RCMP seizing drugs, cash, and weapons from a unit inside a supportive housing complex on Joyce Avenue last month.

He doesn’t want that incident to shed a negative light on supportive housing, which he says addresses a homelessness issue that has only gotten worse during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the 61-year-old resident of the unit was arrested and now faces a number of charges. He’s scheduled to appear in Powell River Provincial Court on April 20th.

In a statement, Stuart Clark said after more than a year of the supportive housing program in Powell River, and in the midst of the unprecedented public health emergencies of the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis, it is unfortunate that “this is the story people are reading about…” 

He says it “glosses over” the progress made by local community agencies and provincial partners to tackle the issues of poverty, homelessness and overdose deaths in our community, and “instead frames this issue as a threat to public safety and a dangerous criminal matter.”

Clark believes this framing will only make matters worse by compounding stigma about provincial supportive housing programs and people who use substances, “which in turn makes it more difficult for health professionals to reach those in need.”

“It should come as no surprise to anyone that there is drug trafficking in our community or any community in B.C. for that matter. This is becoming more obvious now that we are in the throes of a devastating overdose crisis in B.C.,” Clark said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the impacts of the crisis, bringing deaths in our province to a record high of 1,716 deaths, a 74 percent increase from 2019.” 

He points out that Powell River has the second-highest death rate per capita in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, second only to Vancouver. 

“Given these harrowing facts, it has become clear to communities and their governments all across B.C. that now is the time to take a very different approach to making our communities safer, and to end the criminalization of drugs and the people who use them,” Clark said.

“What is needed right now is ongoing support for the community agencies and provincial partners (Lift Community Services, Vancouver Coastal Health, City of Powell River, BC Housing, members of the Community Action Team and the Poverty Reduction Task Force, to name a few) to continue our multi-agency, comprehensive, evidence-based approach to addressing these complex issues and ensuring the safety and wellbeing for all who live here,” Clark said in the statement.

He notes that in the past year alone, they have worked with the City of Powell River and BC Housing to temporarily end homelessness in the qathet region, and are continuing with that work in 2021 to make that a permanent reality. 

“We have collaborated with the City of Powell River and First Credit Union to launch a poverty reduction strategy that aims to address the systemic barriers in our community that prevent community members from moving out of poverty,” he added. 

“Our work with the provincial supportive housing program and our partners at VCH has helped connect countless Powell River citizens to health and other community services, which has created many positive outcomes including creating new sustainable employment opportunities. 

In our work with the Community Action Team, a community table of over 60 agencies working to end the overdose crisis in our region, we have worked tirelessly in our community to prevent deaths and connect more people to treatment options than ever before. This work by our local community action team has been recognized as one of the leading examples in B.C. of how a community can work together to address a complex and life-threatening community issue.”