Offering Hope in the Midst of a Crisis

Offering Hope in the Midst of a Crisis

By Alyse Kotyk

Surrounded by mountains and sea, Vancouver is truly a beautiful city. Yet it also holds a darker side. In 2016, the city alone saw 215 illicit drug overdose deaths, with fentanyl appearing to be the reason for this rise in drug-related fatalities.  

Addressing the needs on the streets of the Downtown Eastside is the Mission Possible Neighbours team. Five days a week, they provide support and referrals to the people they encounter, while also helping businesses who might have difficulties with individuals.  

With the recent fentanyl crisis, MP Neighbours has become first responders in the Downtown Eastside and have helped people experiencing an overdose. J Hockley, MP Neighbours coordinator, has heard so many stories about fentanyl while working at Mission Possible.  

"I heard this quote on the street the other day, this guy said people have been killing themselves down here for years and now with fentanyl, it's just quicker," he says. "These [overdoses] are not new to this area, but with fentanyl it's at a larger rate and faster."  

J also says the trenches of addiction are deep for many people on the Downtown Eastside.  

"People know that they are playing Russian roulette with their lives," he says. "How deep is the addiction when you keep doing it?"  

Loretta John is lead patroller for MP Neighbours and has also seen her fair share of addiction and overdoses in the community.  

"How does the government not see?" she asks.  

Frederick, an associate for MP Neighbours says that there is a deeper psychological issue when people live in addiction and that there needs to be more affordable mental health support in the Downtown Eastside to address these problems.  

"People need deeper psychological help to deal with their trauma," he says. "I know first-hand that drug and alcohol usage is only a coping mechanism. It's the long-term [support] that is missing.   "Dealing with your personal issues will help you get off the drugs, get off the alcohol."  

Yet even amongst this darkness, there is hope. MP Neighbours is working hard to provide support to those struggling with addiction amongst the fentanyl crisis in Vancouver.  

For J, this ongoing help is a much-needed light in the Downtown Eastside.  

"Mission Possible does give hope in the sense of we're out there five days a week and we're building relationships," he says, adding that this hope can help people become who they want to be, in spite of the struggles they might currently be facing.

"No one says 'I'm going to grow up to be a crackhead."  

Along with offering referrals and encouragement, MP Neighbours is also trained to carry naloxone kits, which helps to reverse the effects of fentanyl. So far, when the team has encountered someone who is overdosing, others have been around to help administer naloxone.  

Dan, another MP Neighbours associate, says he remembers watching a first responder give naloxone to someone who was overdosing.  

"A second awareness just kicks in," he says. "You know what to do [to help] all of a sudden."  

For Loretta, building relationships with those she encounters while on the job makes all the difference.  

"Love, right? It's all we can do," she says.  

Loretta also says that sometimes people just need to be offered another option — another solution. Sometimes this means a phone call, a housing referral, sharing about Mission Possible's employment opportunities or simply offering to buy them a cup of coffee.  

"We always have other solutions instead of just being down here," she says.   With your help, MP Neighbours continues to offer not only transitional job opportunities, but a light in the midst of a crisis in Vancouver. With your support, Mission Possible is able to offer possible solutions for those who may have lost hope.   For Loretta, this is at the core of her work with MP Neighbours.  

"When you do this work, you always want the best for people."