An innovative PHS program to serve alcohol at an outdoor parklet as a public health measure is now underway – with the backing of Vancouver City Council, neighbourhood businesses and residents.
Participants and newcomers at PHS’s Community Managed Alcohol Program (CMAP) will be socializing and supporting each other at the expanded space until the end of July 2021.
CMAP applies the principles of harm reduction to illicit drinking, engaging people who may otherwise be consuming non-beverage alcohol – substances not meant for human consumption such as hand sanitizer and mouthwash that carry significant health risks.
Program participants are often highly marginalized people and CMAP empowers them to safely manage their own consumption of alcohol. Program Staff monitor consumption at CMAP to establish healthy boundaries along with managing other medical issues, and nutritious meals are available. A physician provides medical care for the participants at a weekly drop-in clinic.
Canada is a world leader in managed alcohol programs, which despite operating in 20 cities across the country are still somewhat under the radar. Studies show these programs enable participants to better manage their alcohol use, reducing consumption and health risks without triggering withdrawal symptoms.
The COVID-safe parklet on the roadway adjacent to the CMAP Drinkers Lounge at 111 Princess Ave was installed in mid-March 2021.
Despite enthusiastic media reports of the creation of a small PHS park – which would be wonderful – a parklet is actually defined by the City as “an extended platform over a parking space.” These seating areas are now a familiar site outside bars and restaurants looking to increase physical distancing through the pandemic.
The parklet contains three to four bistro tables and chairs, with planters, on the quiet roadside during operating hours. It is for program members and additional street entrenched drinkers looking for a safe location away from bus stops and busy streets, with the parklet effectively providing outreach that engages new CMAP participants.
Engaging with medical services
“PHS is grateful for the opportunity to support a place for illicit drinkers to come together and socialize in a COVID-respectful way, and to engage and connect new CMAP members to healthcare and wraparound services”, said Susan Alexman, PHS Director of Programs.
The City became involved as the consumption of liquor outdoors is a bylaw matter, showing support by providing funding to create and staff the location. Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has also confirmed the renewal of its core funding for CMAP.
Dr. Patricia Daly, VCH Chief Medical Health Officer, said: “Providing safe, low-barrier spaces for people to consume alcohol in the Downtown Eastside will help those most at risk in this community to socialize and look out for each other’s safety.
“Managed consumption sites also provide opportunities to link people to much-needed support services, which is critical as part of our response to both public health crises – the overdose emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The parklet idea came about in response to concerns voiced by the area’s residents and businesses of increased street alcohol consumption, particularly at bus stops and alleys, following the introduction of pandemic restrictions.
It was shaped by a steering committee including Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA), VCH, First Nations Health Authority, PHS, Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users’ Eastside Illicit Drinkers Group for Education and DTES Neighbourhood House.
“This pilot project is, in a way, an example of unlikely allies working together over many months and through difficult conversations to arrive at a new way forward,” said Theodora Lamb, SBIA Executive Director. “Strathcona businesses have a stake in its success and the SBIA will continue to show up and work to support their needs in partnership with others.”
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