This post isn’t about the alarming number of British Columbians who are dying of drug overdoses. It is about those who didn’t die because of the angels who saved their lives. These angels, there’s no other word for them, rapidly responded months before the formal system did. And they continue to do so even as the system slowly kicks into gear.
They created pop-up safe consumption sites where folks can safely inject and where they can be revived if they overdose from deadly fentanyl. The pop-ups are makeshift tents set up in the alleys and streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Folks are offered clean needles, basic medical care, food, and something priceless – caring without judgment. Because the pop-ups are illegal and the government will not fund them, the angels rely on donations and other volunteers to keep going.
Why are they doing it? Necessity, of course. People are dying from overdoses. There is no room at the only two legally sanctioned safe injection sites in Vancouver. And front-line responders (emergency paramedics, fire, police, nurses and doctors) are struggling to catch up. The other reason why people are responding is because they are in love. Not in a sentimental way but in a way that inspires them to act, to do something.
Somehow volunteer does not adequately describe them and their actions. That’s why I use the phrase “passionate ordinary,” to acknowledge the extraordinary work done by so-called ordinary people all the time.
Passionate ordinaries don’t quit. They won’t quit. Someone they care about is suffering and they have no choice but to respond. To do what needs to be done. Passionate ordinaries ignore office hours and job descriptions. They are on the front lines spotting and dealing with injustice months and sometimes years before formal organizations and institutions respond. Their resources are limited, so they stretch dollars and make the best use of whatever materials are at hand.
CBC journalist Michelle Eliot captured all this and more in this short radio clip. It’s worth a listen.
Do you hear what I hear in the clip? Those are the sounds of necessity being sprinkled with love.
Somehow ‘pop-up safe injection’ isn’t an adequate descriptor either for these temporary safe havens in the Downtown Eastside.
Given the season, I’m reminded of another time, 2000 years ago when there was no room at the inn for a desperate family. Their makeshift shelter was called a manger – a haven that attracted shepherds, angels and wise travellers. Just like in the Downtown Eastside.
Consider supporting the many groups across the country who are responding day and night to this crisis. Thanks to the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, a few of them are listed below.
Edmonton – Streetworks
Victoria – Yes to Supervised Consumption Services
Vancouver – Overdose Prevention Society
Vancouver – PHS Community Services Society
We do what only lovers can: make a gift out of necessity. (Leonard Cohen)
Musical accompaniment this post is Christmas Must be Tonight. This song brings together three iconic Canadian musicians. It’s sung by Ronnie Hawkins, written by Robbie Robertson and produced by Gordon Lightfoot. Pretty sweet.