CAI’s executive director reflects on BC’s newly released Budget 2024 & what it means to the MHSU sector

As I listened to B.C’s finance minister deliver her Budget 2024 speech I was thinking about the 225,000 people in BC who use unregulated substances, and how they will be served by government’s new 3-year fiscal plan. I thought about their daily lives and how they contend with a poisoned drug supply, constant housing insecurity, climate change and the grief of losing so many loved ones to overdose. I wonder if they felt seen and heard in this budget. Like me, I wonder if they are hoping that in addition to maintaining existing harm reduction services that there will be consideration of areas across the province that remain underserved.

I wonder if they see the profound investment in recovery beds ($117 million) as a good step, and like me wonder about the kind of investment needed to support a continuum of care, the kind that considers after care. Let’s hope the additional $10 million dollars for treatment and recovery programs will focus on how we support people as they emerge from recovery so they can maintain their health gains.

Maybe, like me, they would applaud the expansion of Peer Assisted Care teams. These teams offer a non-police, community-based option for people experiencing mental health and substance use crises.
Some communities already have access to excellent services. PHSA’s Red Fish and St Paul’s Road to Recovery were both mentioned by name. I agree that these are models to learn from. I also look forward to a future budget about investments in community-based holistic and long-term services for those who live outside of the Lower Mainland.

Budget 2024 provides an opportunity to reflect on how far mental health and addictions care has come, and acknowledge its prominence in the document. In light of the over 2500 deaths last year due to overdose, it’s also an opening to ask for more and better. The Community Action Initiative (CAI) is here to facilitate many of these important conversations. We’re dedicated to advocating for the mental health and substance use sectors so that the people who rely on community-based outreach, programs and support are seen and heard. We also work closely with our partners at the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to continue to build the infrastructure our Province needs to respond to today’s Public Health Emergency and its root causes.

As the CAI’s new executive director, I’ve spent the last 7 weeks immersing myself in the work of our organization and learning from those who receive funding to deliver important programs. So much has been achieved through community counselling programs, municipal dialogues, Community Action Tables and investment in the peer community via our Provincial Peer Network.

We look forward to continuing to work with government to enhance B.C.’s response to the mental health challenges and the and substance use crisis affecting so many in British Columbia. They deserve to be seen and heard – not just on budget day, but everyday.