In light of reports highlighting Fraser Health’s recent practice of taxiing discharged homeless patients that are deemed medically stable to shelters in communities not their own, Jackie Tegart says it’s time for communities to start thinking outside the box—or rather, beyond their own borders—to find workable solutions for people who don’t have a place to go.
“When we talk about people who are homeless, it’s not just about getting them a house or a place to live,” said the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Fraser-Nicola. “It’s about taking a look at what lead to them being homeless, the wrap around services (required to help), and how to coordinate that.”
But because the pathways into homelessness are varied and complex—domestic violence, personal circumstances and relational problems, system failures, and housing and poverty issues—things like cities and towns across British Columbia are grappling with creating a one-size-fits-all solution.
“Look at how complex this issue really is,” continued Tegart. “And it’s not just in one community, it’s an issue that’s across the province and country. And because there are so many complexities, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of money (to find a solution).
“We all have a responsibility to care for our most vulnerable … and when we’re shipping people who are leaving the hospital and have no place to go (to other, distant communities), it’s unbelievable to think about it for the amount of dollars we spend (on health care).”
Just after Christmas, Rina Gallo, who lives in Surrey, says she received a call from her son Steven who was in the Langley Memorial Hospital: he told her he was being discharged to Hope via taxi.
“He was scared, he was very scared, but he called me when he got there,” said Rina during a telephone interview in late March.
The Standard can’t confirm how Steven got to Hope’s Emergency Shelter—shelter staff say he wasn’t in a taxi when he arrived at their door—but Rina is emphatic her son was delivered into Hope by a cab hired by the Langley Memorial Hospital.
“I spoke with the social worker at the time and she said he had to go (to Hope),” Rina recalled. “And I said, ‘That’s not where he lives.’
“They took him from his family, his baby. They took him from his entire family.”
Arriving in Hope at the beginning of January, Steven Gallo missed the birth of his first child, a son born on January 8.
“My son has drug issues, and (the hospital) had highly medicated him because he can get violent,” continued Rina. “He even tried committing suicide while in there. I’m surprised Langley Memorial released him at all. He really thought he was going to get good care (there), and he did not.
“I just worry about who they are going to do it to next.”
“If communities don’t take (homeless) people back, or accept them into their community, then they’re not going to be building shelters for people who are homeless and other communities will have to put them up,” said Tegart. “So how does our region as a whole provide support to (these sorts) of vulnerable people rather than one community becoming the hub?
“The mayor of Hope (agrees a regional plan) is something that needs to happen and (said) that he’d take that to the (Fraser Valley Regional Hospital) Board. And my understanding from (recent) discussions is that the regional district is now having” the necessary conversations to begin strategizing a plan for the entire Valley.
“There’s no simple solution, but that doesn’t mean you don’t sit down and try really hard to fix it,” Tegart continued.
And considering “all the services that we have available in the community of Hope, and within the region … if it’s not making a difference for the people that we’re supposed to be helping, than we as providers need to rethink our systems.
“We need a holistic approach. It’s about providing life skills, (assisting with) medical and mental health issues. Creating wrap-around services are critical to the success of helping (homeless) people” so they’re not being shuffled from community to community.