Mental health and public spaces: MP Neighbors DTES December journal

Mission Possible’s MP Neighbors program has been operating in the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Area since September 2012. Aside from checking in with businesses to meet any concerns they may have, ensuring that the laneways are clean and safe, and promoting an open and accepting atmosphere for the entire community, MP Neighbors is also finding that it is beginning to build inroads into the mental health community.

The following is a journal entry recounting a recent encounter in the DTES between MP Neighbors and a young man who was in need of help:

Two of MP Neighbor’s staff, Monica Dhaliwal and Lee Beauvais were on patrol when they came across a man on the street who seemed confused and lost. As the two approached the man, and asked if he would like to get a warm cup of coffee on a cold day, the two found that young man had no idea where he was. This was all the more concerning for Monica and Lee as the man was only in a tee shirt and pants on a rainy November day. As the two continued to talk to the man, they were able to assess the situation and conclude that the young man was in need of immediate assistance. As time progressed in their conversation, the man became more comfortable with Monica and Lee and had agreed to go with them to get some help. Monica and Lee had walked with the young man over to Mission Possible’s community space on Powell where they were able to get him a jacket and proper clothing for the weather. From the community space, they accompanied the young man over to Strathcona Mental Health where the young man was able to get an assessment by a local psychiatrist.

By taking a compassionate approach to safety and security in the neighborhood, this fellow, and others who may be in a similar situation, have been referred to the proper services instead of merely pushed along. Mission Possible seeks to take a peer-based approach to situations such as this, in order to get people the proper help that they need, which can contribute to a healthier community, and a richer life.

Hastings Crossing BIA has partnered with Mission Possible to create a safer urban environment in our part of the city through use of both MP Neighbors and MP Maintenance, two social enterprises that offer a range of services for businesses and properties while creating employment opportunities for local Downtown Eastside residents, many of whom have experienced barriers to employment.

The value that this service brings is multidimensional. From eliminating clutter on sidewalks and lanes not only is our district safer but it’s cleaner and more comfortable to be in. This ranges from used needles to abandoned bikes or shopping carts that have been chained up to bike racks or poles, to mattresses in alleys. The relationship building on the street is also crucially important. By employing a more patient and compassionate approach the MP Neighbors team were able to prevent a potential situation for businesses where a man may have been suffering from hypothermia in front of their shop, or may have wandered into that shop disoriented, possibly posing a risk to himself or others. These kinds of situations are not only awkward and time consuming for businesses,as their staff don’t often have training or experience working with individuals with mental health or addiction, but they too often end with a call to the police as businesses don’t know who better to call for help. Every year millions of dollars in taxes are spent on first responders here in Vancouver, those are taxes that could be spent on many other things. Or taxes that could just come down! Recent studies have shown that it would be less expensive to house people than have them travel through the labyrinth of first responders and emergency or other civil services including fire, police, hospital, ambulance, courts, and so on. What MP Neighbors does is in the same vein as that preventative service model. By preventing a young man who is shivering cold and disoriented from further suffering in a cold wet stretch of sidewalk they have also prevented a potential situation where first responders have to be called in to the aid of that man or of a business who is having difficulty dealing with a situation involving him or where a person was simply left cold and in need of help in our community.

For more information about Hastings Crossing BIA’s partnership with MP Neighbors contact [email protected]

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