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B.C. Budget 2024: it's status quo for mental health and addictions services

Abbotsford News
Feb 23, 2024

B.C. is holding steady on its commitments to mental health and addictions supports but offers nothing new in its 2024 budget.

The fiscal plan, released on Thursday (Feb. 22), promises a fresh $215 million over three years to sustain the treatment and recovery programs already in place or soon to be implemented. It doesn't, however, include any money or plans to expand upon those supports.

Instead, it is continuing with commitments brought forward in last year's budget, when a historic $867 million was announced. The additional $215 million will sustain funding for mental health and substance use beds, overdose prevention sites, peer-assisted care teams, mobile integrated crisis response teams and general policy development around treatment and recovery.

Jonny Morris, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association's B.C. branch, said while this year's dollar figure is far lower than 2023's, he is grateful that the services and supports already in progress will be continued with.

"It represents a pattern of sustained investment," he said, noting that mental health has historically often been left out of budgets entirely.

He said he is particularly happy to see continued funding for the peer-assisted care teams, which have been operating on a pilot project basis. The teams pair mental health workers with peer support workers to attend mental health and substance use calls.

Morris didn't see everything he would have liked to, however. He said 2024's budget was a missed opportunity to further fund care for key mental health conditions like eating disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He had also hoped to see community counselling covered under the fiscal plan, instead of those service providers relying on grants.

Rowan Burdge, provincial director of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, said where the budget fell short for her was on addressing the toxic drug crisis. She said she doesn't feel it is taking things seriously enough, given the number of British Columbians dying every day.

Burdge said she would have like to see significant funding to increase harm reduction services, expand beyond the 49 overdose prevention sites the province currently offers, and create a regulated safer supply.

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy didn't directly answer a question Thursday on why the budget doesn't commit to expanding treatment beds or overdose prevention sites, instead saying the province is doing "a significant amount" to deal with the crisis.

Stacy Ashton, executive director of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C., said she is pleased with the ongoing funding but would have liked a greater focus on poverty reduction. She said economic instability is a major factor in driving people into crisis

The 2024 budget's $215 million will be split between three years, with $70 million in the first year, followed by $71 million in the second and $73 million in the third.

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