PHS Community Services Society News

VCH partners with PHS for Spectrometer at Molson OPS

The spectrometer technician tests an illicit substance

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has partnered with PHS Community Services Society to operate a spectrometer to help users test drugs in their community. Drug checking is an emerging harm reduction strategy that may help prevent overdose deaths. The new Fourier-Transform Infrared Spectrometers (FTIR) will rotate between supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites in Vancouver. 

“PHS Community Services Society is very pleased to have the spectrometer avail at the Molson Overdose Prevention Site as another asset in our arsenal of education, overdose prevention and harm reduction tools.” said Coco Culbertson, Senior Manager of Programs at PHS. “We’re looking forward to reaching out to the broader community so that drug users across the region feel welcome to drop in to the Molson Overdose Prevention Site to test their drugs. We’re going to work to reach out to citizens that are at risk of overdose death who may not have traditionally accessed the site.”

The spectrometer can test a range of substances, including opioids, stimulants and other psychoactive drugs such as MDMA. The machines work by identifying the molecular fingerprint for each drug sample.

“It can detect things as long as they’re present than more than 5% of the mix. That’s why we use the spectrometer with test strips,” says Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, who is a Medical Health Officer with Vancouver Coastal Health. “This is an evolving program. We are constantly looking at new technologies and how they will work. We have to evaluate these and see how helpful they are to people.”

The new spectrometer has been at the Molson site for one day. Another machine has been at Insite for a year. Dr. Lysyshyn and his team were able to draw some conclusions from the samples gathered during the study. “If you test stimulants , there is the expected substance but if you test an opiate, there may be a different substance than what one would expect. We continue to find that drugs are heavily contaminated with Fentanyl— about 85% of substances have tested for fentanyl.”

With regards to how the device has been received in community during previous trials, the reaction  to the new Spectrometer testing from Insite participants has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The most succinct (and frequent) quote from folks is ‘finally!'” said Darwin Fischer, one of  the program managers at Insite. “For years site participants (and staff) had expressed a need for an accessible and rapid testing process, due to the obvious fact that the drug market in the DTES is completely unregulated and there’s no list of ingredients on paper flap sold on the corner.”

He cites unpredictability of substances as a prime example. “One participant had some ‘heroin’ tested and found that the flap actually contained only caffeine powder and diarrhea medication.  The high prevalence of synthetic opiates like fentanyl in the community has led many participants liken buying drugs on the street with playing Russian Roullette.”

Since the testing has become available, Fischer reports that participants are much more likely to use smaller doses or split their dose, which lessens the risk of overdose. The results of the testing have also confirmed that it’s incredibly unsafe to use alone.

The spectrometer program also has proven as an effective point of engagement with drug users and helps to facilitate conversations about safer drug use and other relevant topics like detox, opioid substitution therapy and injectable opioid agonist treatment (IOAT).

“All in all, the availability of spectrometer drug checking in the community gives at-risk people factual information without judgment in a supportive environment,” says Fischer. “It helps create more safety for our folks.”

East Van Roasters on International Coffee Day

East Van Roasters is the darling of the Vancouver bean-to-bar scene. And they go about their chocolate differently— how it’s prepared, who gets to prepare it and why. 

East Van Roasters is the clandestine, light-flooded space your mind summons when you daydream tender meetings— the bashful first date, the easy embrace from a friend you haven’t seen in ages, the place you take your mother to taste something sweet like the things from her childhood.

The coffee shop is sun-soaked to brightness, and even feels this way in Vancouver’s “winter,” which often only concludes after months of unrelenting rain. It is always easy to feel safe here, and like you belong.

Inside East Van Roasters.

Inside East Van Roasters.

A part of this is Shelley Bolton, who roves about the cafe in a chocolate-dappled chef’s coat, offering warm smiles and hugs to friends and strangers alike. Her partner in crime, Ann Hnatyshyn, can always be found poring over frothing coffee like a sorceress, teasing dark and delicate shapes to the surface of the brew.

“It is community crafted coffee and chocolate. The sourcing is done with a lot of intention,” begins Shelley, who has summoned Ann from behind the counter after she finishes the pours for a wave of delighted, noon-hour customers. She waves them goodbye over her shoulder before she joins us with a platter of warm, spiced drinking chocolate. The three of us crowd a grooved, dark wood table, cradling the drink in our hands. “For the coffee broker that we use, we went for a Canadian, family-owned importer the was in the industry for a couple generations and worked with farmers in origin countries to not only bring in amazing product, but also ensure sustainability in the origin country.”

The first sips of the Mayan Spiced Chocolate are amazing— it is a full-bodied chocolate blended through cream as thick and smooth as molasses. The most joyful part of it is how its thickness moves through your mouth, carrying with it a subdued pepper taste. It features Peruvian chocolate, and vanilla, cardamom and chilli, the notable star of the concoction.

 

Ann and Shelley share a vision for how they want people to experience the coffee and chocolate offered by East Van Roasters. “I want EVR coffee to be very accessible,” Ann offers. “I am trying to find that middle ground that is chocolatey and sweet and you can still distinguish each origin. It hurts my soul when people say they hate coffee! I think there is an opportunity there to expose people to the things we have here— a tasting flight of chocolate and a flight of coffee where you’ll still be able to pick up flavours from origins you may have never tried before all of it while being able to have a good pallet.”

Ann talks about making the precision and skill needed to make this drink with the reverence of an alchemist. “A bean from Ethiopia is going to be 1000 times different than from coffee from Brazil. You have to treat them all very differently when you’re roasting. Nothing is the same about any coffee and that’s what makes it interesting. I am constantly pushing myself and develop my craft.”

 

They have both had to travel and immerse themselves in different international communities to hone in on the inspiration that fuels East Van Roasters. They laugh with fondness at the memories they recount that led to their love of coffee and chocolate.

 

“I went travelling and working in kitchens, and would see baristas be creative with their hands doing latte art. I wanted to learn, and so I dived in,” Ann says plainly. “I volunteered my time with baristas in Australia and New Zealand. I started roasting when I lived in London. The more you learn about coffee, the more you realize there is to know about coffee.”

Shelley traveling the world to learn her craft.

Shelley traveling the world to learn her craft.

Shelley was introduced to different origins and getting a pound of coffee a week from single origin coffee from a friend who worked at Starbucks. “That’s when I started getting into coffee,” she admits. “When I had the opportunity to be involved in a social enterprise that was going to dive deeper into that, I was really excited about it. No one in Vancouver was making chocolate at the time. I had to find someone to teach me to roast and make chocolate. The closest I could find was Madre Chocolate in Hawaii.” Shelley went to the farm and learned the various complexities in working with coffee: how to harvest and grow cacao trees, the fermentation process, drying and grading and basics on grafting trees and different species of cacao. “I got to delve into the whole part of farming and learn why different beans taste differently and how they’re fermented. I made my own batch of chocolate in the week I spent staging in their chocolate shop.”

The founding executive team at PHS had hired Shelley in 2011 to start The Window and East Van Roasters, which is directly beneath the Rainier Hotel, a long-time fixture in the DTES for women who are grappling with mental illness, poverty and substance use. Many of the staff who work at EVR are women who access supports and services at the hotel. Liz and Mark, the founders of PHS, were becoming increasingly interested in expanding their community services to include a network of social enterprises that would offer a dignified type of employment, and they had the retail space that had come into their possession through managing the Rainier had already been negotiated as a coffee shop.

Dan Small worked with Shelley to get the program up and running. He had been inspired by cocoa farming communities he had met travelling through Vietnam and different sciences about what made chocolate delicious. He wanted this program to not only be socially responsible, but environmentally so as well. He came up with the idea for an environmentally responsible roaster.

Ann and the fluid airbed roaster.

Ann and the fluid airbed roaster.

“Before there was anything else sorted, there was this roaster sitting here,” Shelley recalls. “The guys that designed this machine came to Vancouver and stayed on their own dime and serviced the machine when we told them that we were planning to use this for a social enterprise. The fact that we were taking on this kind of undertaking, that we were to roast cocoa in their coffee roaster made them excited— no one else was doing anything like that at the time.”

The machine in question, a fluid airbed roaster, is a silvery titan of a thing, with a transparent cylinder where you can see the coffee surges along a column of air, tossed by some invisible, barely contained hurricane. The beans smell warm and ripe on the air to the point my hairs stand on end. The smell floods my head, banishing any sluggish lingerings of tiredness.

Fluid airbed roaster at work

Fluid airbed roaster at work

Most establishments typically use a drum roaster to heat beans to a point where the complexities of its flavours can emerge. This process involves a lot of contact with the beans, and there is a high risk of scorching them to inedibility. The team at EVR use the specially calibrated airbed roaster to roast in a process comparable to popping corn in a pop-corn machine. It requires a great deal of skill and precision— and the women who work alongside Anne and Shelley have this in spades.

 

“When you think of chocolatiers and coffee roasters you think of craftspeople. You develop more and more skill the more you do it,” Shelley explains. “It is something people can come into and feel like they are immersed in something outside of themselves, which is a great type of social enterprise to have. The intention is to be the best at what we do so the stigma associated with the people we work with would have no weight. People believe that people who use drugs or have mental illness cannot excel at something, and that is so not true.”

 

Ann laughs, smiling conspiratorially. “There are ladies in here that have tidbits of information about chocolate and coffee beyond the knowledge of most people in Vancouver. And that’s the most satisfying thing— being able to pass on what I’ve learnt over the past ten years to women who might not have ever get the chance to learn that depth of coffee.”

 

“I like that we’re fine quality and accessible,” says Shelley, proudly. Beyond us, staff at the counter laughs gregariously with a customer before plating a thin wafer of chocolate so fine it could be a jewel. The customer makes off with the treasure, beaming. That is what is special about East Van Roasters— it makes that something special and dreamlike accessible for anyone who wants a taste.

 

 

Welcome to M. Mitchell Place!

We’ve opened our second temporary modular housing facility, M. Mitchell Place, on 2132 Ash Street! M. Mitchell place is a continuation of the B.C. government’s commitment to build 600 homes to house Metro Vancouver’s street and shelter homeless population. To date, 208 units have been successfully tenanted.

 

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M. Mitchell Place will provide housing for 52 members of our community, and will be complemented by the continuum of healthcare and services standard across our housing continuum— home support, life skills training, round-the-clock mental health teams and other supports. The development, constructed and planned in conjunction with BC Housing, City of Vancouver and Horizon North, also has a commercial grade kitchen, and housing-embedded services such as peer employment programs and a community garden that provide sustainable opportunities for residents to form and join community.

 

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M. Mitchell Place is named for Canadian politician and social activist, Margaret Mitchell, a social worker who lived in the Olympic Village area before she took her advocacy to the political arena as the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East. She passed away in 2017 at 91. Margaret is remembered for legacy of intersectional activism which focused on rights for women, immigrants and the homeless. False Creek South Neighbourhood Association and PHS Community Services collaborated on the naming, arriving at the decision through a poll of the Neighbourhood Association.

“Margaret Mitchell served as the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East for 14 years. She was a pioneer in community development, a tireless advocate for housing and a fearless activist in support of women and people living in poverty. She was instrumental in bringing violence against women and domestic abuse into the political spotlight,” said Jennifer Breakspear, Executive Director of PHS. “Margaret worked to make change for a cause that she believed in and, in doing so, helped countless people all over BC, and Canada. That kind of compassion and tenacity deeply resonates with PHS’ culture of supporting those in need. We are excited to dedicate this building to her memory.”

The project comes on the tails of PHS’ inaugural modular project, Chartrand Place, which opened in April of 2018. “It’s great,” says Cliff Hayes, a resident of Chartrand Place. “It is a lot better than where I was before. Here, I can have myself a good sleep, can cook my own food and go to the bathroom when I need. The staff here is great. It’s perfect. I would recommend modular housing to anyone.”

 

 

Welcome to our Indigenous Health Services Manager!

We’re excited to welcome Belle Beach-Alcock to the PHS family, where she will be taking up residence as our Indigenous Health Services Manager.

Belle brings a wealth of compassionate and culturally informed social work experience to the position, and has tenured at community advocacy organizations and research institutions such as WAVAW and the VIDUS Study.

“I’m Metis, Cree and Sioux on my mother’s side, and English on my father’s side. I received my Bachelor of Social Work from the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, which is an Aboriginal Post-Secondary in Burnaby. We had Elders on staff and I took a myriad of different decolonization classes. My cohort started a nature-based based cultural immersion program. We spent 6 days in nature doing ceremony.”

Belle’s career took off after she matriculated from Nicola Valley, and has taken her to many organizations where she applied her skills to positions requiring case management, outreach and clinical research. “I’ve worked with Aboriginal women and families with the Ministry of Children and Families in Child Protection. I also spent time at the Aboriginal Mother’s Centre as the Transformative Housing Program Manager. At that time, it was a new organization that wanted to house at-risk mothers and children who were having trouble finding housing and would benefit from supportive housing. I ran culturally based programming there.”

Belle is also very familiar with the DTES, and our long-standing relationships with service providers and communities in the neighbourhood. “I worked at the Downtown Community Court as the Watari Outreach worker. It gave me a good understanding of mental health outreach teams—we were able to connect with people and get them to see a doctor and get housing. I got a good idea of how the legal system worked.”

When asked how she sees culture and healthcare as an intertwined practice, she talked about the many non-traditional ways her career has seen the two support one another.  “For example, I always do smudging and circle smudges with staff as part of the teachings that I learned at Nicola Valley—I was so privileged and honoured to have those teachings, so I feel like I have to share those teachings in a respectful and non-imposing way. Everyone has gifts and teachings and something to share— I am excited to bring those teachings forward, and feel with my lens can be very empowering and decolonizing, especially for women.”

Belle has spent time with the MAPS Canada study, and looks forward to what advanced in harm reduction can come from the published findings once the trails have finished. Harm-reduction is an integral part to her practice, “I’ve been working for the BCCSU for the past three years. I have got a really good grasp of what longitudinal research in community entails, and where people were at in community. I also worked for AESHA, which evaluates sex workers’ access to health care and community-based services.”

Belle is excited to work alongside everyone in the PHS family and apply her learning to the position. “I love PHS and I’ve always heard such good things. It has a great reputation in community and I like how down to earth people are.”

“I am really excited to ask the community and come up with different ideas for programs to implement at the space,” she says with a smile, “I am excited to share ideas for programming. I am excited to get to know everybody and learn from people. I’ve missed working with the Aboriginal community, and I felt like I was missing that in my life and in my work.”

You can visit Belle Monday to Friday at the Indigenous Health Hub, located at the corner of Carrall and East Hastings.

 

Chartrand Place is now open!

After months of planning and building, we’re finally here! PHS Community Services Society is proud to open Chartrand Place on 1131 Franklin Street. The temporary modular homes are part of the B.C. government’s $66 million commitment for 600 units of temporary modular housing in Vancouver.

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“This new modular housing will serve as a stopgap until there is permanent housing available for our residents,” said Jennifer Breakspear, Executive Director of PHS. “This project, developed with the City and BC Housing, means that the residents of Chartrand Place will be able to call the project home for five years. Our modular project will fit within our continuum of health and services so that the folks who move in will receive the same care and support we provide to all PHS residents.”

Chartrand Place houses 39 residents, with seven homes that are wheelchair accessible. The development, constructed and planned in conjunction with BC Housing, Boni Maddison Architects and Horizon North, will also feature embedded services such as peer employment programs and a community garden and apiary. The building is named for Michel Chartrand, who was one of the residents of the original Portland Hotel.

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“We named this building after Michel because his story is a tale of hope and resilience we see every day in the Downtown Eastside,” said Breakspear. “He was diagnosed with HIV early in the AIDS epidemic, and yet, despite his diagnosis, he lived longer than expected at the time, thanks to the embedded services in our continuum of care at the Portland. He passed away from AIDS-related complications in 2003, but his memory is a testament to the full life a person can have when provided with safe, stable housing and a sense of community.”

 

The project comes at a time when the city’s population of homeless residents have reached staggering heights. City of Vancouver’s 2017 homeless count reported a final tallied survey of 3,605 people.