Social Inequality A Community Issue

The Sunshine Coast is a playground for many. Indeed, people from all around the world come here to experience our unique natural gifts.

Hiking, biking, ocean sports, good food and a vibrant local culture – we seem to have it all.

But who is “we?”

As late-model SUV’s towing ski boats zip though our communities, they pass a largely hidden cohort of people that you won’t see in any tourist brochure.

And there is good reason for that, because abject poverty, homelessness, hunger, want, and mental illness do not figure prominently in in any advertising campaign. Yet these social ills are with us in increasing numbers, while aid and assistance is dwindling.

Just as the division of wealth is increasing, so too is the division of social justice and opportunity.

You may wonder why the number of vulnerable folks is increasing. There are many theories. The most likely is this: Folks from all over Canada with mental illness living in poverty tend to aggregate on the West Coast because the weather here won’t kill them. Many end up moving up to the Sunshine Coast because Vancouver – in particular the Downtown East Side – is a savage and dangerous jungle.

So, these folks end up here. What do they find?

First, it becomes clear that we have a mental health care system as good as any, but which is badly overstretched.

Funding for mental health services comes from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). But while the need for services increases, budgets decline; the system is quite simply unable to deal with the load.

However, for the refugee from the Downtown Eastside, there is the Arrowhead Clubhouse. If there is a centre of activity and support for adults living with severe/persistent mental illness, it is Arrowhead. Indeed, Arrowhead has some 130 members, and that number is growing.

Being so, you might reasonable assume that VCH would devote some budget to the Clubhouse’s operations, seeing as it plays such a vital role in the community. You’d be wrong. Unlike other clubhouses in the province, which receive funding from their local health authority, Arrowhead gets not one thin dime.

The clubhouse relies on grants, which are scarce, and private donations in a climate of ever increasing demand from other worthy causes.

Two other aspects of Coast life that become immediately clear relate to food and housing.

The food banks are tragically stretched. Even though donors are enormously generous, the demand simply outstrips supply, and children in increasing numbers are among the client community.

And then there is housing, which I need not comment on.

This is a community challenge.

It is clear the BC and federal governments have little interest in solving the issues faced by the vulnerable and mentally ill here on the Coast. So it falls to all of us to look beyond our own back yard and to come up with solutions.

We must ask ourselves: Is it okay that hundreds of vulnerable people, many living with a mental illness, sleep in the forest, eat poorly, suffer the predations of drug dealers and other criminals? Is it okay that while many folks’ biggest decision is whether to have foam on that latté, for others it is whether to sleep under a boat or in a doorway?

I know what my answers are.

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