Island Health announced on April 3 that a new Wellness and Recovery Centre will open at 5878 York Rd. that 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.
That includes the Valley’s controversial overdose prevention site that is currently on Trunk Road.
The OPS , which operated on Canada Avenue before moving to Trunk Road in April, 2018, has had thousands of visits and zero deaths have occurred there due to overdose.
But neighbours have complained of thefts and trespass on their properties, overnight vagrancy, loitering, trash and needle littering, and loud and lewd aggressive behaviour on the streets related to the site.
In a statement at the time, Island Health said it is committed to continuing to work with neighbours to address concerns around the new facility on York Road, but the health authority doesn’t require the approval of local governments or the public to place such facilities in neighbourhoods.
Many of the neighbours in the York Road area took exception to the plan for the centre in their midst and formed the Citizens Action Group.
The group took out a full-page ad in the Aug. 19 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 on York Road, and expressed concerns for the students’ safety and welfare when the centre opens.
Soon after, North Cowichan council acknowledged that the services of the centre are needed, but voted 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.
The Cowichan Valley school board soon followed suit and 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.
On Sept. 19, 300 concerned citizens marched from Cowichan Secondary School to Quamichan School to voice their opposition to the location of the new centre. This event was spearheaded by the group A Voice For Our Children which has formed to lobby against the location of the facility.
But James Hanson, Island Health’s vice president of clinical operations for central and north Vancouver Island, made it clear in a letter in late September that the centre will be placed on York Road, despite the concerns in the community.
He 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.”
The centre was scheduled to be open in the fall of 2020, but Hanson said that given renovations at the site are expected to take approximately six more months longer than anticipated, the opening has been postponed until June 2021.
“We are supportive of engagement on the service model taking place during this time,” he said at the time.
Hanson also said a community advisory committee will be established for the centre, and key stakeholders are being invited to designate a representative for the committee.
The outcome of these initiatives has yet to be determined.