Chilliwack city council approved the expansion of a supportive recovery home for women Monday night despite concerns from downtown neighbours.
And this wasn’t the first time the Spiritual Quest Wellness Society asked city hall for to expand its program in a house on the corner of Nowell Street and First Avenue from six women to up to 10.
Council did approve issuance of the temporary-use permit (TUP) after a public hearing Monday with Coun. Jason Lum opposed, an application that was deferred by council a year ago.
In August 2016, the home’s owner Justine Gillies said she herself has recovered from substance addiction and it was her dream to help other women get off drugs. But at that time, a sizable contingent of neighbours came out opposed to the plan and city council agreed it was too much too soon.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said part of the concern a year ago was that Gillies was bringing women from Surrey to the Nowell Street address, something the owner says is no longer happening.
“To hear the application is servicing mostly people in Chilliwack is heartwarming,” she said.
“All of us had a concern that we have our own needs in the city of Chilliwack without importing more where there is not a real benefit to Chilliwack,” she added in an interview Tuesday.
A similar group of neighbours came out to Monday’s hearing to express continued concern the house is not living up to its promises of generally not disrupting the neighbhourhood, and specifically not allowing men inside.
“There are people coming and going, there are men knocking on the door,” one neighbour said. “How is that safe?”
Another neighbour, Corrine Robson, said she, too, is a recovering addict and would like to even volunteer at the recovery house but she sees nothing but “red flags” at Spirit Quest.
“I can’t even walk my dog down the alley without seeing needles,” Robson told council. “I’m in full support, but if it’s a women’s program, why are there men there?”
Other neighbours also said they have seen men knocking on the door, going in and out of the house in the middle of the night, but Gillies denied any men at the house were boyfriends or spouses of clients but rather individuals hired to do various work around the building.
“We do need men for certain things, that’s a fact,” Gillies said, to which Gaetz interrupted her with a good-natured jab.
“That is not a fact,” the mayor said.
Other issues addressed by neighbours is the criminal history of both clients and volunteers. One volunteer’s name was brought up by a critic because she was a former Canada Post carrier acquitted after trial for stealing mail.
The issue of criminal record checks, however, was a non-issue with council as it was noted many people recovering from substance use have checkered pasts. And while everyone who works at Spiritual Quest is in some stage of recovery, they will be required to get criminal record checks done.
A number of women spoke in favour of the facility, among them counsellor Barb Dyck. A woman who is a client also spoke positively saying that she was kicked out of her mother’s house for being addicted to drugs.
“Without this program I wouldn’t have hope for the future,” she said. “I wouldn’t have the true, genuine happiness I have today.”
After the input from the owner, supporters of the recovery house, and neighbours opposed, council expressed their concerns.
Coun. Chris Kloot said he was convinced “the sky is not falling” at the house, but he said he would only support the TUP as long as it was looked at again in one year.
Coun. Chuck Stam agreed that a three-year TUP was ill-advised.
“I’m not in favour of going carte blanche for three years,” Stam said.
Lum, however, was the sole vote against the permit, expressing concern over the sustainability of the organization, which is running at a monetary loss funded by Gillies.
“I don’t think we would be doing any favours adding three people to patch a funding problem,” he said.
In the end, council approved the TUP, but Gaetz ensured that not only will it be looked at in a year, the house will be monitored and the permit can be revoked at any time for violation of conditions.