Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
Thats how much Vancouver Coastal Health, your public health authority, gave VANDU, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, last year. This year, according to VCH officials, VANDU will receive another $250,000 from taxpayers, continuing a provincial funding scheme established in 1999.
Most Vancouverites dont know VANDU. Headquartered in a brick building at 380 East Hastings in the Downtown Eastside, its a non-profit hangout conforming to neighbourhood drug culture. Folks gather outside on the sidewalk and inside the lobby. Traffic seems to have increased since December when VANDU began distributing free crack pipes to addicts, part of a VCH crack pipe giveaway. But mainly, thanks to longtime leader Ann Livingston, VANDU exists for activism.
Wherever police move against drugs, VANDU is there. Whenever Insite stages a street-level show of support, VANDU, which according to the citys website offers cash stipends for "VANDU work," shows up. Livingston and company crash city hall, chiding council for police sins like the ticketing of illegal street vendors. Last week, following a four-year legal battle, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal dismissed a complaint from VANDU and the Pivot Legal Society who claimed the Downtown Ambassadors, a private security firm, discriminated against the homeless. Not even the tribunal, which relies on frivolous cases and flimsy evidence, could justify VANDUs complaints.
Under the radar, VANDU provides public speakers and research and consultation to anyone interested in the VANDU point of view. Before booking a VANDU expert, you must call for a free consultation. Any additional fees are unknown. Livingston did not return calls for this column. But in 2009, she told the Courier that VANDU employs three paid staff members who help organize group meetings and counselling sessions at 380 East Hastings.
Of course, counselling is subjective, depending largely on the goal. According to VANDUs manifesto for a Drug User Liberation Movement available on its website, folks have the right to obtain, prepare, and ingest drugs, and to be intoxicated on drugs. It continues: We might take drugs to deal with psychological trauma or physical pain, or for pleasure or fun our drug use is a response to our experiences of poverty, inequality, colonization, forced migration, workplace injury and inadequate access to pain relief.
This is the VANDU gospel. Enablement on steroids. Victimization, stamped and validated. Music to the ears of the addict who organizes life around shunned responsibility. Every school of addiction treatment recognizes past trauma and the desire to self-medicate. Thats what addiction is. While sober minds can debate drug policy and decriminalization, the realities of addiction remain constant. Addicts want more. In response, VANDU celebrates drug abuse. Its 1,089-word manifesto excludes the words addiction and addict, calling drug abusers oppressed people.
Heres why. According to the VANDU website, only a person who has formerly, or is presently using illicit drugs can become a voting member of the organization. To be clear. Addicts are people. Our friends, our family, our brothers and sisters. They deserve love and respect among, what Christ called, the weary and burdened. But until they recover, addicts place their addictions first. Any edict born from a group of addicts, under the influence of radical ideologues, will promote more enablement, more denial. Yet in a neighbourhood steeped in addiction, where treatment and prevention remains an afterthought, our provincial government funds this madness.
Why? Wheres the benefit? VANDUs message helps fuel drug culture in the Downtown Eastside and a never-ending bill of housing, welfare, medical, policing and court costs.
But thats not all. In addition to cash from Victoria, VANDU received $20,000 from city hall last year and will receive another $20,000 in 2012. Moreover, since 2006, VANDU headquarters has operated without a development permit. Back in 2009, Livingston said she was negotiating with the city. Apparently, negotiations have stalled.
VANDU is a cancer in a neighbourhood struggling to breathe. Its public funding is obscene. No government, at any level, has received a mandate from voters to prop up a pro-dope lobby.