North Cowichan council will ask Island Health to pause any further development on its new and controversial Wellness and Recovery Centre until a public consultation process with businesses and residents in the neighbourhood is completed.
Council decided at its meeting on Aug. 19 to send the letter to Island Health after receiving negative reaction to the planned site of the centre, 5878 York Rd., from neighbouring residents and businesses.
As well as other services, the site will contain Cowichan’s overdose prevention site when it moves from its current location on Trunk Road.
The local Citizens Action Group took out a full-page ad in the Aug. 19th edition of the Cowichan Valley Citizen stating that the community was not given the opportunity to receive information on the project through a public consultation process, and to express their views before the decision was made for the centre to be placed at the location on York Road.
The group pointed out that there are four schools located within three blocks of the site, and expressed concerns for the students’ safety and welfare when the centre opens, which is planned for sometime this fall.
Mayor Al Siebring took exception to the ad’s statement that local elected officials did not adequately inform the public of the intentions of Island Health and that local officials are now advising citizens that it is too late to do anything about the project moving forward.
Siebring said the municipality and the City of Duncan were approached by Island Health last year and the health authority made it clear that the centre was going to open at the site.
He said that, while Island Health doesn’t require permission from local governments or residents to open such sites, health representatives asked the municipality for input in regards to where local officials felt the centre should be placed.
“When the Cowichan Leadership Group was made aware that a site for the centre was needed, we asked Island Health not to cluster services into the same neighbourhood, but that’s exactly what happened with no consultations,” Siebring said.
“Before the announcement of the site was made, our staff asked Island Health to at least consult with the neighbours and offered to give them names of residents and businesses they should consult with, but it was never followed up.”
Island Health announced last April that the new Wellness and Recovery 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.
In a statement at the time, Island Health said it would work with its partners and clients to ensure a smooth transition to the new site for individuals who use overdose prevention services in the area.
“Island Health will continue to collaborate with our community partners on the broad social challenges linked with mental health and substance use,” the statement said.
“Island Health is also committed to continuing to work with neighbours to address concerns.”
Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said she supports what Island Health is trying to achieve with the new centre, but she thinks it would be a good idea for Island Health to explain to the community what the centre will look like and what the plans are for it to improve the neighbourhood.
“But I don’t know if a pause on the development of the centre is necessary as the services the centre will provide are needed,” she said.
Coun. Tek Manhas said there are a number of groups in the community that speak for the homeless and those with drug issues, but he’s speaking for the businesses and residents in that community.
“Business owners are upset about this, and I’ve received a lot of calls on this issue,” he said.
“Island Health has not consulted with the public on this and I support a pause on this project until those consultations are held.”
Coun. Christopher Justice said community engagement is one of the pillars of North Cowichan’s strategic plan.
“We have a duty not just to engage with our citizens, but to engage other levels of government to engage with our citizens as well,” he said.
Coun. Debra Toporowski said Island Health should have held consultations with the community before moving forward with the public, but she’s happy that this much needed service is coming for the community.
“Island Health is trying to put out fires as they move forward with this, but I think they missed a step here,” she said.
Siebring said many of the neighbours of the centre believe it will make the neighourhood worse to live and operate in, so it’s up to Island Health to convince them otherwise and that can be dealt with through a public consultation process.
In a statement, Island Health said it is aware of concerns raised regarding the location of the new Cowichan Wellness and Recovery Centre.
“We are committed to working with the broader Cowichan Valley community to address the broad societal challenges associated with mental health and substance use,” the statement said.
“We are also committed to working directly with the immediate neighbours and North Cowichan council to address any questions that might arise. Island Health has recently met with community members, including the mayor of North Cowichan, to hear their concerns and we will continue discussions with them.”