In 2009, a group of homeopaths were inspired to help people struggling with substance and alcohol abuse in the Down Town East Side (DTES) of Vancouver. This area has a complex history of social and economic issues, often deeply rooted in multiple generations of abuse, violence, neglect and poverty.
At the beginning, the group went through a soul-searching process. “What is cure?” is often a challenging question to answer, and it was particularly difficult when facing such deeply scarred people. In the end, we concluded that our goal was simply to support individuals in making choices regarding their substance misuse, and to use homeopathic care to address their various health concerns.
Once we started seeing these individuals, it became clear that we needed access to homeopathic remedies quickly and efficiently. This problem was solved by homeopaths donating drops from their own remedies in the medicated potency form; along with a supply of milk sugar pellets, these become part of our pharmacy, established there in the DTES. There was also some fundraising to help with the purchase of supplies.
When deciding what remedies to stock in the DTES pharmacy, we originally thought we would need remedies from the Solanaceae family and, after listening to Gabor Mate, we decided that we should also include remedies from the Milk and Spider groups, as well as first aid remedies. Over the last two and half years, however, we have come to realize that although remedies from the Solanaceae, the Spiders, and the Lacs are prescribed in our DTES practice, they are not prescribed any more than in any other homeopathic practice. As for potencies, we are prescribing remedies from the centesimal scales and the LM’s, and tissues salts in the decimal scales - as always, depending on the individual.
Many of the patients we see are on a number of prescription medications (as well as methadone) for a large number of disease - including Hep-C, HIV, AIDS, asthma, bronchitis, depression, and sleep disorders - and yet, patients are still responding to homeopathic remedies! What I have noticed is that remedies need to be prescribed more often, so it is not unusual to see the same person every 1-2 weeks, repeating or changing the remedy at the follow-up; their state is so intense and fast, it is as if they have ‘burned out’ the remedy. We often prescribe remedies in a liquid form and, as no distilled water is available, remedies are placed in water bottles and sipped during the day. This approach works very well in these conditions.
Since 2009, every week two homoeopaths offer their care in three different locations in the DTES. The challenges of each location fall within a range. At one extreme, homeopaths could be seeing patients who are at the time under the influence of one or more drugs and have come for acute care. In such cases, it is not easy to see what symptoms belong to the effect of the drug(s) and what belongs to the individual. This location is also open to the general public, and therefore some people may not have drug- or alcohol-related issues: in such instances, poverty is the overriding factor that affects their health and the choices they make.
At a second location, homeopaths see individuals that are de-toxing; acute care is given but in addition, on some occasions, constitutional prescribing is possible. An important aspect of service at this location is that individuals have decided to go into detox of their own freewill, and thus they may be ‘ready for change’.
A common challenge shared at these two locations is with respect to the continuation of care. It is often difficult – but not impossible – to have regular follow-ups; without such regularity, it is not always possible to assess if the remedy has worked.
At the third location, women who have been on the streets for many years are now living in their own rooms, receiving food and medical care. For them, this is the best home they have had for a very long time. At this location, the women have undergone thorough detox and are now in the process of understanding why they ended up living on the streets. At times, they relapse and end up in detox for a while, before returning to their own rooms. The vast majority of women whom we see have been abused and neglected as children and as adults; here, we see the deep scarring that arises from generations of violence and neglect - and yet, these individuals have the will to change.
In order to reside at this third location, the women have to follow strict rules and have to attend a certain number of programs each week - for example, anger management, counselling, homeopathy, or yoga – and in return, they are given an allowance for their personal use. Continuation of care is more consistent here, and regular follow-ups are arranged; as a result, it is easier to see how the remedy has worked. Under these circumstances, more constitutional remedies can be prescribed, rather than the arduous work of solely responding to acute conditions.
Regardless of the location, patients are delighted to be listened to unconditionally; this is often the first time that someone has sat down with them and just listened attentively, and without prejudices. Sometimes, we only have fifteen minutes before the person leaves, other times we have the luxury of being with someone for two hours. We prescribe on what is in front of us, because it is all that we have and the goal is to support the individual patient.
Interestingly, once the individual is not under the influence of drugs, it is fairly easy to see the remedy needed. There is no more compensation, no more pretending, their suffering is raw and - at times - it seems as if they know the remedy’s keynotes! But of course, they don’t: that is the source speaking within them.
The conditions we address depend partly on the drug(s) used; for example, people using crystal-meth often end up losing their teeth and we see them because they are in pain after a tooth extraction. To give another example, one side effect of methadone is chronic and debilitating constipation; this condition is turning out to be very hard to treat with homeopathy alone. We often see people recovering from being run over by cars or from falling off buildings while under the influence of various drugs. Apart from such complaints that are directly related to their lifestyle, people also come to see us for chronic pain - which is one reason why some started using drugs in the first place, and then ended up living on the street. We see people with abscesses, and systemic and chronic bacterial infection, where the individual has been on antibiotics for two years (!) without any change - and yet, the infection can be cleared with, for example, Silica. Other health concerns that we see include chronic mental illness, digestion issues, irritable bowel symdrome, ingrown toenails, and sleeplessness. With respect to the latter, when living on the street, it is hard to sleep at night - there is always a fear of being attacked – and, once in their room, this fear still persists; it takes a while to heal such a fear.
When it comes to surprises, I once had a patient come in for, as it turned out, morning sickness; she was very surprised that she was pregnant because, with her lifestyle, she thought that she would never have children.
About two and a half years ago, I used to give short presentations about homeopathy, in these locations. These days, patients tell each other that homeopathy works and that it is good to see our counsellors. Time is now spent holding the space and listening to heart-wrenching stories - and prescribing.
The patients are grateful for their homeopathic care. We see that the women and the men are starting to make healthier choices. Interestingly, the counsellors have noticed that after homeopathic care the patients are able to talk about, and work on, traumas that they were unable to approach before. Their minds are clearer and more progress can also be achieved using other modalities.
In conclusion, it is an honour to volunteer as a homeopath in the DTES. It is an incredibly humbling experience to see that, despite all the traumas, abuse, and suffering that these people have gone through, they are still alive - and homeopathic remedies still work well to help them on their journey.
For more information about this work, please see www.sidebysidehomeopathy.org
Keywords: Volunteer, Vancouver, DTES, addiction, detox, methadone
 Gabor Mate (2009), In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters with Addiction, Knopf Canada.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons
Keywords: addiction, detox, methadone, poverty, abuse, outcast