Homeless centre plans stalled

Plans for a centre to deliver a humane approach to dealing with the homeless are back to square one because of concerns surrounding such a facility, according to an advocate for the homeless.

Paul Mason, program manager for Campbell River Housing Resource Services (a program of Campbell River Family Services), said concerns from some in the community are making it difficult to move forward on establishing a Sobering Assessment Centre for the homeless.

“We’re looking for a new location for the Sobering Assessment Centre but the problem is, no matter where we say, there’s going to be push back, that’s just the nature of it,” Mason said. “But it has to go somewhere and it has to go downtown because that’s where the homeless are.”

The centre was expected to be built at 1180 Fir Street – the current location of Discovery Chiropractic – which the city acquired in a land swap in exchange for city property next to the downtown fire hall.

City Council approved the land exchange at an Aug. 12, 2014 in-camera meeting but Mason said push back from neighbouring residents and businesses has led council and the city to look elsewhere for potential sites.

A letter of concern from the Navy Cadet executive to city council earlier this month revealed that a space near the Cadet hall was being explored for a Sobering Assessment Centre and at Monday’s council meeting, a report from city staff outlined potential locations council could look at for such a facility.

City Manager Deborah Sargent told the Mirror Monday night, however, that the chiropractor property is still on the table, but is not available until the business is able to relocate to the city’s Dogwood property.

“At this time council hasn’t ruled out or decided or determined any use for the Fir Street property,” Sargent said. “It’s been some time since city council participated in a discussion about that property. We haven’t determined a specific use for that site.”

Mason said he would like to see a decision soon because the Extreme Weather Shelter – which Mason points out led to some initial apprehension from downtown merchants before proving successful – closes at the end of March and with it will go 16 beds for the homeless.

“Where are they going to go?” Mason said. “We need to find something and we need to find something quickly.”

With a Sobering Assessment Centre, the homeless would have access to assistance 24/7 from professional medical providers and counsellors.

The facility would allow RCMP called to attend an incident involving an intoxicated person to take them to the centre where the individual would be assessed. If that person is determined to need emergency care, they will be taken to the hospital. If not, they can be kept at the centre to sober up.

Mason said the service would take pressure off the hospital emergency room, and reduce costs to taxpayers, while providing care for the homeless with a humane approach.

“It’ll get them off the streets and give them a place that’s theirs and where they can be treated with dignity and respect,” Mason said. “Plus it’s a place where the homeless can come to any time of day to get out of the rain, sit down and have a cup of coffee and open up the lines of communication. It’s a chance to sit down and talk to them and give them some hope.”

Island Health has recently announced that it will provide funding to cover the cost of six detox beds and one support staff for a Sobering Assessment Centre.

Now all parties need to come to an agreement on where to put it.

Kevin Brooks, the city’s development services supervisor, wrote in a report to council that a preliminary review suggests that the area between Dogwood and Ironwood streets is a suitable area for such a facility, but acknowledged that the city may run into complaints no matter what location it chooses.

“Locating homeless and other supporting service facilities is difficult for communities because of the perception and stigma attached to the use,” Brooks wrote. “It is best practice that these uses are not placed in residential neighbourhoods. It is also essential that shelter and support facilities are located close to where the primary clientele frequent.”

Which, Mason said, is the downtown core.

The challenge is getting the community on board.

“I totally get people’s apprehension,” Mason said. “I think a public open house would be beneficial to explain to people and to fill them in.”

Mason said he wants to continue to work with the city to make the Sobering Assessment Centre happen. He said ideally Family Services would like a site large enough to accommodate micro-housing on the same site as the centre.