A Health Contact Centre is one step closer to becoming a “one-stop shop” for housing and health services for Chilliwack’s marginalized and addicted population.
Council voted unanimously in favour of the rezoning Tuesday night, after more than two hours of public comments on the proposed location for a new facility at Young and Hocking.
“I want to assure everyone that their voices were heard,” said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz after the hearing.
Proponents who showed up to speak outnumbered opponents by a margin of almost 4:1. However two petitions with more than 200 signatures of those opposed, were also submitted.
Many who were opposed said they supported the facility in general, but not in that spot. Several cited fears for their children’s safety, security and concerns about the location and its proximity to schools, a pub, and a liquor store.
One recovering addict tried to allay those fears by sharing his experience trying to get sober.
“People drinking and drugging are not going to hang out near a recovery house,” said resident Jake Wood. “I know there is a pub right across the street. But if you take someone in recovery and hide them in a box, it doesn’t work. The pub is actually part of the solution. If someone is going to relapse, they are not going to do it in that area…This is people who want the solution, they don’t want be part of the problem.”
But former meth addict Michael Duggus had a different take.
“I know they are saying (the residents) will have to sign a Good Neighbour agreement, but I wouldn’t have cared and I would have signed something like that.”
He told the crowd he got straight without treatment, moved to Chilliwack, got a job, a family and a house.
“So in that location, I think it’s a terrible idea. What about property values?”
Mayor Gaetz cited studies that show no depreciation of property values due to their proximity to contact centres.
“I would like to state my strong support for the health contact centre and the location,” said Coun. Diane Janzen after the hearing. She helped steer the project and bring the partnership together in her role as chair of the Mayor’s Committee on Health. “I think it will take a major bite out of crime.”
Janzen said when people are on the streets, “they become people they aren’t and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.”
The favourable vote by council was described as the culmination of five years’ work by a partnership, including lead proponent Pacific Community Resources Society, the city, Fraser Health, and more.
RCMP Insp. Grant Wilson expressed the force’s support for the project, stating that prospective clients of the centre “don’t belong in jail.”
“Police are finding themselves more involved,” with people who are wandering the streets or homeless, “neither of which are illegal,” he underlined.
Increasingly officers need a way to address incidents stemming from mental health issues or addictions which has nothing to do with jail, to tying up officers’ time at hospitals.
“The contact centre will provide police a with 24-hour location to take these people” where they could be referred to other agencies, he said.
The $3-million health contact centre will offer “wrap-around” services for 34 clients, with supportive and transitional housing, as well as physical and psychiatric health services with one point of entry.
Proponents at the hearing kept repeating what the contact centre was “not” in an effort to clear up misconceptions about what it was. It is “not” going to be a homeless shelter, a detox, or a treatment centre. Housing is a central part of the program, but it’s only one component.
Wayne Massey of Ruth and Naomi’s Mission estimated that about 65 people will be “off the streets” thanks to the new contact centre and the new Ruth and Naomi’s facility.
“I think this made-in-Chilliwack model will be such a success it will go province-wide.”
But resident Rob Stewart said Chilliwack is becoming the “wrong” type of magnet for “East Hastings types.”
“I’m concerned a facility like this will attract people from outside Chilliwack,” he said.
But city staffer Karen Stanton stated that their information from Fraser Health indicated that applicants will come from inside the community.
Coun. Sue Attrill called the centre “a gift” after the hearing.
“Keep in mind the ones being referred to and seeking help at the centre are not the ones we have to worry about. This place will be such a gift to the community.
“Any time you shine a light on a problem or situation, it becomes the safest, brightest light there is.”
The proposed property on Young Road at Hocking Avenue will be rezoned from tourist commercial to R9, a one-of-a-kind zoning designation for a supportive housing and health contact centre for the homeless, and those at risk of becoming homeless.
Caroline McDonald, a local resident and mom who lives near the proposed centre, who is also a youth outreach worker, took on the question of “why” the Young Road location was ultimately chosen for the contact centre.
The real question for her was not why but, “Why not?”
Residents at a future contact centre will be living there because they want to “change their lives,” she said.
McDonald rejected the way some refer to the marginalized as “them.”
“It’s not them — it’s our brothers, our sisters, friends and neighbours. This is our community and we need to start treating them like they are our community.
The sale of the property on Young Road at Hocking Avenue is almost complete. Although it’s still operating as a Days Inn Motel, once the subjects are removed it will be rezoned from tourist commercial to R9, a one-of-a-kind zoning designation for a supportive housing and health contact centre.
Here are more quotes from speakers at the hearing:
Quotable quotes from the contact centre rezoning public hearing March 1:
“There are very few in this room who have not been touched by addiction,” said resident Tom McMahon. “By helping people on the path to addiction recovery we are helping to improve the quality of life for everyone.”
“I just think it should be in a hospital environment, not in a residential area,” said resident Moira Stewart.
“There is a need in Chilliwack for a local facility like this, and your police department needs it as well,” said RCMP Insp. Grant Wilson, expressing the detachment’s support for the project.
“At first blush people have a right to be concerned about their kids,” said PCRS spokesman Ian Mass. “But this is a 24-hour-a-day, seven days a week, supervised facility.”
“This is a chance for Chilliwack to show the rest of the Lower Mainland how to do it right,” said PCRS addictions manager Lee Anne Hanson, describing the unique residential centre with health services in a “wrap-around” model.
“The downtown Chillliwack homeless and drug problem is just going to move into this neighbourhood,” said resident Renée Woods.
“It’s not them, it’s our brothers, our sisters, our neighbours. This is our community and we need to start treating them like they are our community.”
“l, like most people, recognize the need for this,” said businessman Ken Wiens. “I do however disagree with the location.”
“I come to you tonight as a grandfather, one who has grandchildren at Robertson… The thing I fear the most is that they would learn to be intolerant of other people,” said resident Gerry White.
“We are glad you are here and glad you brought these concerns to us,” Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said to those opposed to the location. “Your voice will give us call to ask questions. We all have the right to feel safe in our own neighbourhood.”