Vancouver City Council has unanimously approved a plan to spend the remaining $600,000 raised by a special tax to fight the overdose crisis.
The 0.5 per cent property tax hike was approved in December, and raised about $3.5 million, much of which went to fund a 24-hour fire medic team and resources for front line workers.
Wednesday’s vote now earmarks the remaining funds for 16 grants targeted at five priority issues.
They include new anti-stigma programs, programs to engage with urban indigenous communities, addressing social isolation for drug users, expanding the city’s response beyond the Downtown Eastside, and strategies to address toxic drug supplies.
The city said the funds will be more than matched by outside partners who will contribute an additional $1 million to the grant programs.
Earlier on Wednesday, some advocates for drug users worried the vote would fail.
To pass, the recommendation needed the support of two-thirds of council members.
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But with Vision Vancouver two votes short — Councillor Geoff Meggs has resigned to be Premier John Horgan’s chief-of-staff, and Kerry Jang was not present — support from opposition council members was necessary.
When council voted on the property tax hike in December, the vote split largely down party lines, with all three NPA councilors voting no.
“I understand that sometimes people feel a great need to make a point and make it clearly, but this isn’t a good time,” said Karen Ward with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).
“We need these programs to proceed in the Downtown Eastside because we’re losing everything and everyone.”
The latest numbers from the BC Coroners Service show that at least 640 people have died of an illicit drug overdose in 2017.
More than a quarter of those deaths were in Vancouver.