About 150 people turned out at the Rio Theatre on Monday for the premiere of A Long Journey Home: The Rainier Story followed by a panel discussion about women’s addiction treatment in the Downtown Eastside.
The short film, directed by Colin Askey, focuses on 40 former sex trade workers coping with addictions who turned their lives around after receiving treatment at the Rainier Women’s Treatment program, a pilot project launched by Health Canada in 2009 as four-year study with an annual operating budget of $1.9-million.
The Portland Hotel Society (PHS), which runs the Carrall Street facility, says the end of federal funding for the on-site treatment program leaves vulnerable women without essential services and they want the provincial government to now step in.
“The provincial government hasn’t picked up the slack after the federal government dropped the ball,” PHS executive director Liz Evans told the audience. “The Vancouver [Coastal] Health authority has been quite creative and innovative in finding ways to continue but the actual meat on the skeleton is gone.”
The non-profit group received $750,000 a year to provide nonclinical treatment, including yoga, vocational training, art classes and writing workshops that Vancouver Coastal Health are declining to pay for after funding ended in December. Providing increased services to women in the Downtown Eastside was among the key recommendations made by Wally Oppal in his final report on the B.C. Missing Women Commission of Inquiry released the same month.
Vision Vancouver park board commissioner Constance Barnes, a recovering alcoholic, would like to see the province to pick up the tab.
“This is a health issue. If this were cancer, they wouldn’t be closing it down,” said Barnes. “We need to stop looking at Downtown Eastside residents as anything less than anyone else”
Paula Armstrong, a 53-year-old former addict who appears in the film, calls the services a matter of life and death.
“You need to have the basic hierarchy of needs met before you can recover and begin to function in society,” said Armstrong. “It saved my life and I really hope something can be done because otherwise women are going to die.”
The province provided $9.5-million to buy and renovate the Rainier Hotel in 2009.