There was some sympathy for a delegation opposing the location of Island Health’s new Wellness and Recovery Centre at the council meeting in North Cowichan on Dec. 16.
But the virtual delegation from A Voice for Our Children, who are campaigning against the plan to place the wellness centre at 5878 York Rd., will have to wait until the next council meeting in the new year before it learns if North Cowichan will grant its request that the municipality send a letter to Island Health stating it is against the location.
North Cowichan’s council already decided in August to ask Island Health to pause any further development on the centre until a public consultation process with businesses and residents in the neighbourhood is completed.
Members of A Voice for Our Children also recently held meetings with Premier John Horgan, Cowichan-Malahat-Langford MP Alistair MacGregor and other officials on the issue.
The delegation, which included Florie Varga, Jas Doman, Ruth Hartmann and Will Arnold, presented North Cowichan council with its many concerns with placing the wellness centre on York Road.
When it is scheduled to open in June, the centre will provide services, including the controversial safe injection site, to people with substance abuse and mental health issues, but it has caused concerns due to its location on York Road, which is close to four schools and several community recreation centres.
“The community was not so much consulted by Island Health on the location of the centre as told [where it would go],” Doman said.
“We were told there were no other options but there are always other options and, as a community, we need to speak up for our options.”
Asked by Coun. Kate Marsh where in the community an appropriate location for the centre would be, Varga said no one questions the complexity of the issue of finding a proper location.
“I propose that there needs to be checklist,” Varga said.
“Island Health said they had a checklist before looking at 200 places [for the centre], but the checklist has to be inclusive of the community, and it can’t be inclusive if the only criteria there is is to provide a service around wellness and recovery and provide an overdose prevention site that saves lives. When people walk out the door [of the centre], Island Health abdicates all responsibility and accountability for them.”
RELATED STORY: HUNDREDS MARCH AGAINST LOCATION OF SAFE INJECTION SITE
Coun. Debra Toporowski said neither she, nor council, have all the answers to the issue.
“A wellness and recovery centre is a much needed facility and that’s the way it was written on paper and presented to us,” she said.
“We see the opioid crisis rolling out all over B.C. and we have leadership that decided this was a way of moving forward. I think it was out of desperation that they are trying to put something in place like this that can offer some help. Everyone needs to try to work through this. We all have our hearts in the right place; we just need to communicate with each other.”
Toporowski said she believes Island Heath is making a mistake in how it is dealing with the issue, and the health authority needs to communicate with the community to determine what the centre will look like and allow people to have a say in it.
“I don’t want to see a one-sided conversation and I want to have everyone at the table,” she said.
“All have ideas as to what can happen. There’s going to be NIMBYism in every community and every place where the centre is considered to be placed. But these people are suffering with addictions and we have to decide how best to move forward.”
Acting Mayor Tek Manhas told the delegation that council never decides on an issue immediately after a presentation, and they must wait for the next meeting for council’s decision on sending a letter to Island Health.