It’s a decision bordering on the criminal.
We’re talking about the Fentie government’s refusal to adequately fund the outreach van.
The van needs $15,600 a year from the Yukon government.
But the government isn’t chipping in.
And this is folly.
Without that money, the van has been forced to cut its Friday night shift.
And this has implications for us all.
The van, an old, decommissioned ambulance with two attendants — usually a nurse or a counselor and an outreach staffer — will now circle the city two nights a week, instead of three, feeding and offering assistance to drug addicts, alcoholics and other people in need.
It serves sandwiches, soups and hot meals, including chili and rice dishes, to the hungry. And it distributes hats, mitts and coats when it’s cold.
It curbs disease, by issuing clean needles to addicts.
It makes sure biohazard containers are readily available around town.
Staffers clean and dress the wounds of these largely abandoned people.
They also collect used, dirty needles from addicts — needles that would often be tossed aside if the van wasn’t around.
And now, because of the government’s decision, it’s not going to be around as often.
We’ll leave you to connect the dots.
But know that the van distributes hundreds of disease-preventing clean needles a night.
And, more significantly, it regularly collects more dirty needles in its biohazard containers than it hands out.
The van operates as a partnership between Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Yukon Family Services Association.
It is a frontline health service that provides invaluable contact between people on the fringe of society and those solidly within it.
It promotes health, prevents disease and helps keep used needles from being tossed into city parks.
A network of church groups, Blood Ties Four Directions and others all support the van, and use it to connect with people who are notoriously difficult to reach.
On a quiet night, the van will service 30 clients.
On busy nights, the number can hit 70.
The summers are the busiest, according to those who support the service.
Now, as that season begins, the outreach van service has been rolled back because the government won’t chip in $15,600 a year.
“It’s really a question of priorities,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell in a release.
Health minister Brad Cathers has a $2-million Substance Abuse Action Plan budget that he could tap, noted Mitchell.
“Why is the minister sitting on this funding when it could be used to help youth at risk” through the outreach van?
“The Yukon Party has money to study ports in Alaska and $3 million for railroad studies, but they don’t have money for projects that involve people.”
We’d take the argument one step further.
The Fentie government has money to distribute, but none for the downtrodden who traditionally don’t vote.
In this case, a little money goes a heck of a long way — improving the health of the whole community.
The government’s failure to step forward speaks volumes about its priorities.
And its failure to act to protect the poorest, most desperate people in society borders on the criminal. (RM)