Social services zone denounced by service groups

Rezoning bylaw proposal said to 'ghetto-ize' social care facilities, is unclear and could perhaps even be racist

Community organizations lined up to denounce a rezoning bylaw proposal that they say “ghetto-izes” social care facilities, is unclear on the definition of those facilities and could perhaps even be racist.

“This zoning reads like segregation,” said Susan Trayler who attended a public hearing into the bylaw held before Monday’s city council meeting.

The public hearing was held after city council recently gave first and second reading to a bylaw amendment which would – if adopted – allow the city to differentiate between a “community care facility” and a “social care facility.”

The amendment would also prohibit social care facilities from being located outside a proposed area near downtown between Ironwood Street and Dogwood Street, south of 13th Avenue and north of 10th Avenue.

According to a statement from the city released July 7, the city has made this decision in response to questions surrounding the Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by Island Health at the end of May looking for bids to create a fully staffed, six-bed, 24-hour-per-day, 365-days-per-year sobering assessment facility that would, “ensure clients can easily connect with additional outreach, substance use supports and other health, social and housing services when they are ready.”

“Careful consideration and consultation with service providers suggests that, in future, social care facilities would be most effective if they are focused in an area immediately adjacent to and within walking distance of downtown and other related services,” city manager Deborah Sargent said in the city’s July 7 release.

The city announced in their release that it has also made a conditional offer to purchase a property within that zone to support the prospective sobering assessment centre, which it would then lease to the successful proponent of the Island Health RFP.

The public hearing was held Monday to provide the community with the opportunity to share any suggestions or concerns with council regarding the bylaw amendment and location of future social care facilities before the bylaw can be adopted.

Each of the speakers who soundly denounced the bylaw wholeheartedly endorsed the need for the sobering assessment centre that this bylaw is intended to accommodate.

Nurse practitioner Danielle Daigle told council that she was “for the Sobering Assessment Centre 100 per cent but I object to the definition attached to the zoning.”

Daigle was concerned about what the definition of a social care facility and restricting the operation of those kinds of services to a specific part of the city could have on other organizations and social services.

Jordan Campbell from the John Howard Society of North Island also endorsed the sobering assessment centre (SAC).

“The sobering assessment centre is beyond a good idea,” Campbell said.

But the zoning restriction is not supported by any organization that he talked to about it. In fact, if the community had a zoning that said, for example, immigration services could only go in a certain area, it would be struck down as racist, Campbell said.

The implication is that confining social services to one area also segregates one sector of society and in this case, many of that sector are First Nations people and many are certainly impoverished.

Other speakers pointed out that the zoning contradicts the city’s Official Community Plan which expresses a desire to be an inclusive community.

“This zoning change does not seem either responsible or inclusive,” said Trailer who also spoke later on behalf of North Island Transition Society executive director Valery Puetz.

AIDS Vancouver Island regional manager Sarah Sullivan told council that the zoning maintains the downtown core for the exclusive use of those who do not face the problems of homelessness and related social problems.

“I urge the City of Campbell River to reject marginalizing zoning,” she said.

Campbell River Family Services representative Paul Mason, who has been working on providing shelters for the homeless in Campbell River for the past few years, expressed his appreciation to the city for “starting the conversation” about acquiring a SAC but even he could not endorse the zoning restriction.

“To restrict service in that small area is really not the best way we can move forward,” Mason said.

John Powell, a representative of the Kwakiutl District Council (KDC) and the three local First Nations that are members of that organization – We Wai Kai First Nation, Wei Wai Kum First Nation and Kwiakah First Nation – told council that the three First Nations only found out about this public hearing on Friday and the chiefs were not available to attend. However, many of the clients of a potential SAC and the victims of homelessness are First Nations people. The chiefs “wholly support the sobering assessment centre” as does the KDC but they have concerns about the effects of “corralling” social service to a designated area.

“There are too many things that could go wrong with this idea,” Powell said.

Powell said the First Nations have not been consulted on this issue and wish to be.

Mayor Andy Adams asserted that the local First Nations will be consulted and the local chiefs will be contacted.

This public hearing was a chance for the community to express their concerns to councillors who now are supposed to take the comments into consideration and deliberate over the next few weeks before the bylaw comes back to the Aug. 8 city council meeting for third and final reading and adoption, or rejection.

– with files from Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror