Despite recent criticism by residents of a Kelowna neighbourhood where a supportive housing project that will allow drug use on site is slated, B.C. Housing has no plans to change how it handles public consultation.
Ann Howard, B.C. Housing’s regional director for the Interior, said consultation with neighbours of the planned building on McIntosh Road in the Rutland neighbourhood has already started.
The 50-unit housing project, that will house former homeless and, in some cases, drug addicted residents was announced the day after a packed and lengthy public hearing before city council on a similar project slated for Agassiz Road in the Midtown area of the city.
During that public hearing, area residents—mainly seniors—expressed fears their neighbourhood would become unsafe with the arrival of the supportive housing that allowed drug use. The residents said they feared drug dealers would move into their neighbourhood.
They also claimed they were not told that drugs would be allowed on site when plans for the project were first announced.
Earlier this week, B.C. Housing held a public open house for the McIntosh Road project and once again none of the printed materials talked about drug use on site. Representatives did, however, talk about it when asked.
Howard said both projects will follow the “housing first” approach, which has been shown to be successful in helping formerly homeless people, including addicted and those with mental health issues, turn their lives around once they have a home of their own. That includes seeking help through support programs.
“We are providing housing,” Howard told the Capital News. “People make choices about how they want to live.”
She said as is the case in anyone’s home, residents are not prohibited from taking drugs or drinking alcohol or forced to participate in treatment programs. But staff will be on site to help residents, she added.
She said it has been shown that when someone has a home they are more likely to voluntarily seek treatment.
Howard described the McIntosh Road open house as “good dialogue” with area residents, adding all B.C. Housing projects try to be good neighbours.
Part of the plan for both the Agassiz and McIntosh Road projects is to have community advisory committees to help bring issues to the attention of the organizations that operate buildings. In the case of the Agassiz Road project, that will be the John Howard Society. The John Howard Society will operate the McIntosh Road project.
B.C. Housing has said not all people to be housed at both locations will be addicts and there is a screening process for those who will be allowed to move in.
But, as was the case with residents in the Agassiz Road area, residents living near the planned McIntosh Road project said they have concerns with what residents will be allowed to do.
While conceding some neighbours have concerns, Howard said B.C. Housing and the John Howard Society were working to address them. She said area residents expressed a desire to become part of the community advisory committee for the McIntosh Road project once it is up and running.
Unlike the Agassiz Road project, the McIntosh Road facility will not require a public hearing before city council because the land does not need to be rezoned.
The two projects, along with two other similar supportive housing projects in the city—on Commerce Avenue and on Highway 97 in a renovated former motel—are in part a response to a call in the city’s Journey Home initiative to address homelessness for the addition of more supportive housing in Kelowna. Journey Home calls for 300 more units of supportive housing in the city.
Between the two projects already up and running—called Hearthstone and Health House—and the two planned projects on Agassiz Road and McIntosh Road—200 of those units are being provided.
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