Island Health’s long-anticipated public consultation on its controversial Wellness and Recovery Centre that is planned for York Road is scheduled to begin soon.
At North Cowichan’s council meeting on Jan. 20, Coun. Rosalie Sawrie said she has been in contact with officials at Island Health who said plans to engage the community on the centre, which will be located at 5878 York Rd., before it opens in June are well underway.
“Invitations have been sent out to different groups and folks in the neighbourhood to serve on the community advisory committee that is being established,” Sawrie said.
“Also, there are plans that by the end of January or early February, Island Health will hold virtual town halls where people can be educated [on the issues related to the centre] and it can be explained what is happening with the centre. Island Health said the concerns of the neighbourhood will be listened to, and wants to make sure the security concerns are addressed.”
Island Health confirmed it is in the final processes of forming the committee, and the first meeting will be held in February.
The health authority said in a statement that the committee is just one part of a broad-ranging public engagement strategy on the centre.
Sawrie said the work permits for the required renovations at 5878 York Rd. for the centre have been issued, and work is currently underway that will see the centre set up at the location by early June.
She cautioned against any expectations that Island Health could be persuaded to move the centre to another location during the public consultation process.
Sawrie said the municipality had already stated its concerns about the location to the health authority, but the decision has been made to place it on York Road.
“I think it’s important to focus as a community in identifying what the problems are and listen to each other [during the public consultation process],” she said.
“We all need to work together to make the centre the best wellness and recovery centre that it can be.”
Island Health announced last April that the centre will be set up on York Road to 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, but many residents and businesses in the York Road neighbourhood have been advocating for Island Health to open the centre elsewhere and have been pressing local governments to intervene.
North Cowichan council instructed Mayor Al Siebring to write a letter to Island Health in August 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.
In response, James Hanson, Island Health’s vice president of clinical operations for central and north Vancouver Island, told the municipality in September that the health authority has faced significant challenges securing a location for the centre, and concluded that the site on York Road was only one available that will suit the purposes of the facility.
However, Hanson said Island Health is supportive of a public engagement process on the centre in the months leading up to its opening in June.
Hanson said in the letter that a community advisory committee will be established, and key stakeholders would be 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 at the time.
“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.”
In a tight 4-3 vote, North Cowichan council decided at its meeting on Jan. 20 to have Mayor Al Siebring write a second letter to Premier John Horgan and Island Health encouraging them to explore alternative locations for the centre.
The decision to write the second letter came after a virtual delegation from A Voice for Our Children, who are campaigning against the plan to place the wellness centre at the site, asked for it at the last council meeting in December.
Mayor Al Siebring said council is “very much alive” to the fact that this type of service is needed in the community.
However, Seibring said council also wants to ensure that both Horgan and the health authority are aware of the community concerns the municipality has been hearing regarding the location on York Road.