Down and Out in the DTES
Alright, I need to reframe this experience.
What should you do if you walk past someone who is rolling around half dressed in a gutter, crying, at 11 at night in a rough-ish neighbourhood? Does it make a difference if they’re visibly a member of multiple vulnerable populations? What is the set of criteria for intervention? Can you help? Should you? How?
I’m asking because I honestly don’t know, and I feel like I should know, that I need to know. If you’re certain a cab won’t take them if you call one, and uncertain if they know where they’re going or if it’s safe there?
I walked past two people today who appeared unconscious, but they were leaning against buildings and it was daytime. And I see it all the time. Those seem like strange reasons to make decisions based on, but in this neighbourhood, it feels expected to presume that this is a choice, and it’s not our place to intervene, or it’s pointless to.
I walk by literally dozens of people in a week who would benefit from urgent health care. Every once in a while, one stands out as particularly urgent. But unless they’re imminently dying, or committing a crime we don’t have the capacity to help? I felt like emergency responders were annoyed that I had insisted on getting help and no one was dying, and I’ve felt that way before.
This systemic inability to help in times of mental health crisis is nation wide, but here in addition in the DTES it’s this weird, awful, fentanyl fuelled triage situation right now. We’re trying to save people from dying, but if we have no way to treat their pain, what’s the point? I look around, and I don’t see “junkies”, for the most part. I see people in pain, who are self medicating. I see a health care crisis, not a drug problem. If we don’t treat the cause, how do we change the outcome?
I just did some homework on who to call outside of business hours, though I have before without much luck. In the day, PHS is my go to. Vancouver Mental Health Emergency Services (aka Car 87/88) operates 7 days a week from 7:30am to 3:30am. (604) 874 7307. But when I asked them if I should call them instead of 911, they said it was best to call 911 and let the respondents decide if they are needed.
So is it police or ambulance? I lean towards ambulance, because I feel like police attendance is threatening. But the ambulance didn’t come until after the police, so it’s not better. Or just leave it alone? Somebody else’s problem? Do i just give too much of a shit and should stop?
I feel very helpless about this. It’s not a good feeling.