Jonathan Hand and I spoke for about an hour before I joined him and a few other volunteers on Street Reach, a tri-weekly meet-up in which volunteers walk around downtown and connect with people who are experiencing homelessness in an effort to build connections and relationships.
The items we gathered before we headed out were pretty simple. We had some harm-reduction items in the kit and cigarettes. The volunteers joked about a friendly competition over who could dish out more fruit punch or hot chocolate throughout the evening. There were Clif bars and granola bars, and fruit snacks, too.
I walked with Hand and another volunteer, who also joined for the first time. It was a sunny evening, and we met several people throughout our walk.
One of the immediate topics that a few people we met discussed is the lack of places to live — even if it is just a place to pitch a tent in the summer. One person told me that if Under One Roof isn’t working out for you, no matter the reason, you’re mostly out of luck in Squamish.
On the other hand, the available services in Squamish are making an impact.
Outside the Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), a group told me that they had experienced homelessness and struggled with substance abuse elsewhere, but the OPS and Under One Roof had since helped them tremendously.
One person even called it the best service they’d ever experienced.
At that moment, everything Hand explained earlier really stuck with me.
At one point in our interview, Hand acknowledged how the OPS could be a contentious topic in Squamish. He knows not everyone is on board with it.
But when this person looked me in the eye and said it was the best, I knew it was working for them.
There will always be lumps or growing pains in the face of change. It is impossible to move ahead without them.
But the lumps at the OPS are literally saving lives.
And I know some detractors will wag their fingers at me and shake their heads in dismay. But those detractors didn’t see the genuine gratitude that I saw.
In the face of so much unnecessary death, we have to try innovative approaches. We cannot just stick with the status quo — too many people will continue to die.
And these deaths are something that affects us all, as many of us don’t need more than one or two degrees of separation before tragedy hits.
This article is part of an in-depth, provincewide journalistic effort by Glacier Media to examine the scope, costs and toll of the opioid and toxic drug crisis in British Columbia – a public health emergency that has taken at least 11,807 lives since 2016. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911. If you need help with substance abuse, call the B.C. government's alcohol and drug information and referral service at 1-800-663-1441. It's available 24 hours a day.