Cowichan’s school board and parents have joined the growing opposition against the placement of Island Health’s new Wellness and Recovery Centre on York Road.
After hearing a presentation on the issue from the Citizens’ Action Group: A Voice For Our Children at its meeting on Sept. 1, the Cowichan Valley school board unanimously passed a motion to write a letter to Island Health stating that while the board supports the initiative to establish a wellness and recovery centre in the community, it does not support placing it at 5878 York Rd.
The motion also called for local governments to support the board’s request for an alternate location.
School board chairwoman Candace Spilsbury said the board has expressed in the past that is doesn’t support placing the centre on York Road.
“Although, as everyone knows, we’re part of the Cowichan Leadership Group [formed last year to coordinate actions and communications on cross-jurisdictional issues in the region] and we’ve been advocating for a centre in the Valley,” she said.
“So, many people in the community didn’t understand our position so this motion makes it clear that the location on York Road is not acceptable to us. We have many students in the corridor area and they are facing social issues that are right in front of them, and we feel that it’s not appropriate at their age.”
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, the overdose prevention site currently located on Trunk Road, and on-site treatment in one location.
Island Health doesn’t require permission from local governments or residents to open such sites, and many in the community are taking exception to the centre being placed in an already troubled part of the Valley.
North Cowichan council also decided to send a letter to Island Health at its meeting on Aug. 19 asking for a pause on further development of the new centre until a public consultation process with businesses and residents in the neighbourhood is completed after receiving negative reaction to the planned site of the facility from neighbouring residents and businesses.
In the letter, North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring said that while council is in favour of the concept of the centre, the location that was ultimately chosen is inappropriate and will surely have negative impacts on the surrounding businesses and residents.
“The selected location, just a block from the Warmland shelter and within walking distance of a major constellation of residences and several schools, has generated justifiable concerns within the community because the selection of this site constitutes a ‘clustering’ of these services into a single neighbourhood,” Siebring said in the letter.
“There is further concern that putting this centre on York Road will exacerbate the existing social disorder in this area.”
Siebring said there was broad agreement in the community, including at the Cowichan Leadership Group, that the clustering of services was absolutely not a desired outcome.
“And yet, here we are,” he said.
In yet another letter to Island Health, this time from the Cowichan Valley District PAC which represents parents and care givers in the school district, DPAC also said as much as the group supports the need for such a facility, but the location on York Road is unacceptable for many reasons that affect the safety and well-being of local children.
In the letter, Carmen Sundstrom and Amber Marsh, DPAC’s chairwoman and vice-chairwoman, said the centre, which is planned to open this fall, is a mere five minute walk from Alexander Elementary and Quamichan schools.
“This is also on the direct route for students at Quamichan who walk to lunch destinations,” the letter said.
“Concerns have also been brought forward to us of the extra foot traffic and the possible illegal activities that may take place in and around this area. We are extremely disappointed there was no community consultation to have been able to voice these concerns during the planning phase. We would appreciate the opportunity to speak with the partner groups and decision makers to fully voice our concerns and to discuss this decision that was made.”
In a statement to the growing outcry from the community, Island Health said last month that the health authority is aware of the 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.”