The controversial Wellness and Recovery Centre planned for the Valley will be located at 5878 York Rd., despite community concerns, according to Island Health.
In a letter to the Municipality of North Cowichan, James Hanson, Island Health vice president of clinical operations for central and north Vancouver Island, said Island Health has faced significant challenges securing a location for the centre.
“This process was ongoing for over a year, involved extensive discussions with Island Health’s capital planning team, a local real estate agent, owners of publicly-owned properties at both the provincial and local level, and a public Request for Proposal seeking space,” Hanson said.
“This extensive search resulted in only one site option emerging; 5878 York Rd. Given the dual public health emergencies of the opioid crisis and COVID-19, and this location being very accessible to clients, Island Health entered into a lease agreement. Extensive consultation involving multiple potential site options would have been optimal. However, in this case, there was only one site available.”
Island Health announced last April that the centre will provide a range of services to support people living with addiction and mental health concerns.
It will bring together primary care, harm reduction, case management, overdose prevention, and on-site treatment in one location.
Island Health doesn’t require the permission of local governments or communities to open such facilities.
After receiving numerous complaints, North Cowichan wrote a letter last month acknowledging that the services of the centre are needed, but asked Island Health to pause any further development on the facility until a public consultation process with businesses and residents in the York Road neighbourhood is completed.
The Cowichan Valley school district also sent a letter to Island Health shortly after stating that while the school board supports the initiative as well, it should not be placed at 5878 York Rd. because of its closeness to a number of area schools.
That was followed last weekend with a demonstration that saw more than 300 concerned citizens march from Cowichan Secondary School to Quamichan School on Sept. 19 to voice their opposition to the location of the centre.
In his letter, Hanson said that while the overdose prevention component of the centre is generating the most concern, only 25 per cent of the centre will house overdose prevention services, with the remainder of the site designated for client engagement and clinical services, including treatment.
He reiterated that the public consultations that were requested on the location are no longer a viable option.
“However, given renovations at the site on York Road are expected to take approximately six months (for the expected opening of the centre, which has been delayed until June, 2021), we are supportive of engagement on the service model taking place during this time,” Hanson said.
“To ensure clients are not impacted by a delay, renovations will begin this fall.”
Hanson said a community advisory committee will also be established for the Wellness and Recovery Centre, and key stakeholders are being invited to designate a representative for the committee.
“Island Health recognizes the impacts the societal challenges of poverty, mental health, substance use and homelessness are having on individuals and communities across Canada, British Columbia and in the Cowichan Valley, including the long-standing challenges related to congregation, illegal activity and certain behaviours in the York/Beverly area,” he said.
“We remain committed to working with the new service provider [Lookout Housing and Health Society], local governments and neighbours to ensure a service model that both mitigates community impact while ensuring safe, accessible and critical health care services.”
At North Cowichan’s council meeting on Sept. 16, Coun. Rosalie Sawrie read some comments from Mayor Al Siebring, who is on vacation, on Island Health’s letter.
She said Siebring is encouraged by Island Health’s commitment to engage the community on the centre’s service model, the establishment of an advisory committee for people to talk to address their concerns, and clarification of the fact that 75 per cent of the new facility will be designated for client engagement and clinical services.
“Island Health is making a significant investment in mental health in the region, and that’s what the Cowichan Leadership Team has been working for,” Sawrie read.