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RELEASE: OneCity will launch program to more effectively address mental-health and substance-use emergencies

The evidence-based and proven approach would dispatch mental health professionals and peer response teams to mental health emergencies.


VANCOUVER (Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Territories) — OneCity Vancouver today committed to launch an evidence-based community safety program that would dispatch teams of trained crisis-response workers to mental health or substance-use emergencies.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has long advocated for this peer-based approach, and our region’s three North Shore governments adopted it late last year. It has been shown to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.

“At the moment, when an individual has a mental health breakdown or acute episode in our city, 911 operators dispatch police to the scene,” explained OneCity Council candidate Matthew Norris.

“But police officers aren’t trained in mental health response, and can escalate these situations—resulting in needless criminal charges and even tragedy. We know there’s a better way to handle these emergencies, and we’re going to roll it out as soon as possible,” added Norris.

If elected, OneCity councilors would implement a program that would resource Peer Assisted Care Teams (PACTs) as first responders to acute mental health or substance use emergencies. These teams would work to de-escalate these situations and connect the individual to ongoing community services and support.

“People experiencing a mental health crisis need and deserve health care, not handcuffs,” said OneCity Council candidate Ian Cromwell.

“What the PACT program offers us is a chance to provide the kind of appropriate response to the problems our neighbours are facing, rather than spending public resources on approaches that don’t make our city safer—for those with health care needs, or for anyone else,” added Cromwell.

PACT teams help destigmatize and decriminalize mental health and substance use disorder, free up police and hospital resources, and save cities money. For example, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one such program operating in Eugene, Oregon saves that city around USD$8.5 million annually, and responds to 17 per cent of police calls.

In the Downtown Eastside, PACT teams would work in partnership with neighbourhood front-line organizations, to help respond to the overlapping emergencies too many residents there are facing.

To be clear, the PACT approach does not rule out a police response. The teams can call in police backup should a situation escalate. If they perceive any risk to community safety, the team can respond alongside law enforcement and help assess the situation.

The commitment is the first plank, and the priority, of OneCity’s Community Safety platform. The platform also includes a plan to end the concentration of poverty in the Downtown Eastside—which has created an unsustainable, unfair and unjust situation for both DTES residents and those in surrounding neighbourhoods such as Chinatown.

Election Day is Saturday, October 15, 2022.


OneCity Vancouver communications committee

[email protected]

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