Side-by-Side Homeopathy has been a wonderful addition to Onsite's ­recovery programming

Homeopathic Healing in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

by Julie Cheng
Source: Health Action, Winter 2010

There's a real sense of belonging here, where people greet each other by name, look out for each other and are by turns kind and dysfunctional―just like in any community. But unlike any community, this is the heart of the Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, and to walk these streets you sense you have to be one those who dare―or those who care.

Elena Cecchetto and Krista Leonard are two of those who care. Leaving the hubbub of the street, they enter the Portland Hotel and go up the stairs, past a message painted on the wall, "Give your best to those who matter the most."

They run into Shane B., who greets them warmly. "I don't know what you gave me, but it worked," he says.

Side by Side Homeopathy
What they gave Shane were homeopathic remedies, and Elena and Krista are volunteers with Side by Side ­Homeopathy.

Elena, known simply as El, is a certified homeopath and a founding member of Side by Side Homeopathy, which ­started in 2009. The society put out a call to homeopaths, saying they wanted to help people in the Downtown Eastside. Today Side-by-Side Homeopathy is a non-profit whose purpose is to help people who wouldn't be able to regularly ­access homeopathy.

What inspired El to start Side by Side Homeopathy? When she was going to­­ ­homeopathy school, someone close to her struggled with addiction. Later, El helped people with addictions in her fourth-year project. The Portland Hotel, which runs a detox centre on the second floor and ­houses clients on the third floor, asked her to start a program, and Side-by -Side ­Homeopathy was born as part of the hotel's Onsite Transitional Housing ­Program.

From the Portland Hotel, the project expanded to include Ranier Hotel and then the Life Skills Centre. Currently 30 volunteer homeopaths visit these three sites once to twice a week for approximately three-hour sessions. On a typical visit, the homeopaths will meet with three to four patients.

The gift of giving--and receiving
Together with Krista, a fourth-year student at the Vancouver ­Homeopathic Academy, El volunteers weekly at the Portland Hotel to help residents with a history of drug use.
"We treat the core thing that's lead them to the addiction, and that allows them to heal themselves," says El. "Homeopathy treats every single person differently; we're treating the person, not the disease. That's why I love homeopathy so much."

El gets back just as much as she gives. For her, it's a new adventure every time she sees a new patient. "This is another reason I love homeopathy--I'm always learning from every person, especially in the Downtown Eastside. The amount of generosity and heart in this community is amazing."

A student volunteer for one and a half years now, Krista feels the same way. "You see so many people and learn so many different remedies. I feel it's advanced my learning tremendously and I'm more comfortable working with patients. I feel like I get a lot from it as well as contributing to it."

"As much as you help them, you're always learning. I knew homeopathy was the profession for me, because of the lifelong learning. People feel there are others who care about them―and care about them being well. It's been amazing for me to be part of Side-by-Side."

Positive results
"Side-by-Side Homeopathy has been a wonderful addition to Onsite's ­recovery programming," says Jeanine LeDuc, manager of Onsite Transitional Housing. "They have helped many of our clients find alternative ways to deal with their addictions and health issues."

Phil Misquitta, mental health care worker at the Portland Hotel for three years, sees the benefits first-hand. "One of the best things about the Side by Side program is people are given an alternative to pharmaceutical options," he says. "So many of our clients are entrenched in pharmaceuticals. With Side by Side, they're given an opportunity to take something natural to help their health. It's an eye-opener for them." Clients have experienced relief from nausea, digestive complaints, chronic physical pain, insomnia, anxiety and nightmares.

Phil sees an added benefit: "The whole process, sitting down with two homeopaths--just that one-on-one attention from people who care--really has an ­effect. The homeopaths are asking them questions no one has ever asked them ­before."

Clients find they're able to express themselves freely and do a lot of soul searching, often coming to a deeper understanding of themselves―all part of the healing process. "Trauma, grief, addiction. It's no coincidence that if one doesn't get sorted out, the other doesn't get sorted out," says El.

Portland Hotel resident Shane B. certainly gives El and Krista credit for contributing, mentally and physically, to his recovery. "They asked a lot of hard questions, but it was worth the time and effort. It was a lengthy interview process, really in-depth--they cared," he says. "I'm doing extremely well partly because of them. I haven't done this well for 12 years."