Our impact is clear – Response to Vancouver Sun Op-Ed (Sept 26)

Last week we were pleased when The Vancouver Sun published an op-ed written by myself and my colleagues from the Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions, in which we describe how our proposal do adopt an approach called “Collective Impact” could significantly improve the landscape of mental health and addiction services in Vancouver.

A few days later The Sun published its own editorial, also recognizing the strengths of the Collective Impact model and how it could create lasting change in the ways we support the most vulnerable in our communities. It is tremendously encouraging for The Vancouver Sun to endorse the Collective Impact initiative, and to describe it as “welcome rethinking” on these issues. We thank The Vancouver Sun for being part of this rethinking and for helping bring the idea of Collective Impact to the public sphere.

At the same time, it is also vitally important to recognize that this is not just a Downtown Eastside issue, as The Sun’s second editorial suggests. While this neighbourhood is home to many with complex needs, mental illness and addictions do not discriminate by postal code. This is a city-wide issue.

It is also simply not true to say that agencies like ours and others in our community have “failed to make much of a difference in the lives of the afflicted.” Just a few weeks ago a woman we call Rachel, told us that living at one of our mental health housing facilities has completely transformed her life for the better, and helped her manage her schizophrenia.

“Before I came to Victory House, it was tough living,” she told us. “I had no foundation. When I moved here, I got back the structure in my life. The staff are wonderful. We need more places like this. The mentally ill, the homeless, the poverty-stricken – these are the places that bring these people back to life. It gives me good hope for the future.”

This is one – just one – of the many people who are safer and healthier this year because of our housing and low-barrier social services (last year The Bloom Group served over 1,500 individuals across our range of programs). This is to say nothing of the enormous number of others whose lives are equally improved by the programs, services and facilities operated by other well-managed agencies in our neighbourhood. We would be happy to provide a tour of our programs and facilities for the staff at The Vancouver Sun, or for anyone else interested in our work. These are the kinds of services that help prevent people from reaching the point of crisis, being apprehended by police or admitted to emergency rooms on a regular basis. The tragedy is that this support is either not available or not sufficient for everyone.

Finally, as our recent op-ed in this newspaper alluded to, it is important to remember that it is many of these very same community groups that have been a driving force in the consideration and adoption of the Collective Impact model. We want to reshape the system as much as anyone. We’re a crucial part of the solution, not the core problem.

We thank our donors and funders for their support of the Collective Impact initiative and our role in it. Most of all, we thank you for your continued to support of our work, recognizing the tangible difference it is making in the lives of the most vulnerable.

Jonathan Oldman
Executive Director, The Bloom Group

Rachel’s story – and the stories of several others who’ve been positively impacted by our work – are featured in our recently released 2013-14 Annual Report. Click here to read more.