City of Quesnel councillors had several questions on the various components in the staff’s administration report on the proposed Elliott Street Supportive Housing Development at the Nov. 7 council meeting.
Councillor Sushil Thapar started the discussion by asking about a list of answers to the questions that were collected at the Sept. 18 public hearing.
He asked about drug-free zone school designations, which increases the penalty if anyone is caught possessing drugs, and in particular around Riverview Elementary.
He was told there was no designation around the school, but counsel will be revisiting signage around the school.
The councillor then asked why would the people in the 28 independent supportive housing units be able to use drugs and alcohol.
He was told these tenants would have the same rights as any other person under a tenancy agreement; however, the shelter units will be substance free.
Noting it would be a government-funded facility, Thapar said there should be zero tolerance for drug use to gain the “confidence of the public.”
BC Housing (BCH) regional manager Malachy Tohill (Proponent) and (Operator) Melanie MacDonald, executive director of Seasons House and operator Quesnel Shelter and Support Society (QSSS), were invited to the presentation table to respond to questions from councillors.
Tohill said the operator must provide wellness checks when they don’t see certain individuals over a certain period of time to ensure there aren’t any overdoses.
Coun. Scott Elliott asked if it was beneficial in supportive housing to “have people go cold turkey.”
Tohill said it’s more about teaching them life skills – cooking, how to look after themselves, education, helping them clean up their units – and the next goal is to get them connected to community services, such as mental health and addiction help services.
MacDonald added that in substance abuse and long-term addiction, the “just-say-no approach doesn’t work.
“If you take that hard stance, you’re really closing the door on someone who needs help.”
Coun. Ed Coleman asked if the clients would be able to smoke and vape in their units.
MacDonald said vaping is brand new and they haven’t gone down that road yet, but they would be looking at it as they develop their policy.
However, she added it’s likely the units would be non-smoking, and smoking could be done outside in a private courtyard area.
While drug use was a recurring theme throughout the evening, councillors moved on to other issues, which often turned into more questions about substance use at the facility.
Coun. Thapar asked if there is a time limit on how long people can stay in the units.
MacDonald said there isn’t a specific limit on how long people can stay.
Some people could move out in three months after getting help, she said, others may stay for the rest of their lives because “they are disabled in so many different ways, so they will need that ongoing support.”
Tohill added it’s all about providing help so clients can move forward with life skills and get into private housing, where they would receive $450 per month funding. That would create “flow and keep people moving into the supportive housing.”
Thapar also voiced concerns about the number of RCMP visits that are made to Seasons House and suggested a private security company should be hired, so RCMP resources aren’t being taken up by one facility.
MacDonald noted homeless shelters and homeless people draw heavily on emergency services and are not cost-effective.
She added, however, supportive housing is cost-effective because the number of calls for emergency services decreases.
It was noted there would be 28 independent supportive housing units, four supportive recovery units, eight emergency shelter beds and 10 extreme-weather beds during the winter.
Coleman wanted to know how they would deal with there being more critical at-risk clients and fewer low-risk tenants.
Tohill said they may need more money for staff to deal with the balance.
MacDonald said Seasons House has a changing population with increased risk in mental illness and addiction issues.
When you have those complexities in the population, she added, it is vitally important to have partnerships with Health Authorities stepping in and providing services.
Coleman asked about the number of clients they have dealt with that would benefit if they could get to a 90-day or more sophisticated treatment facility.
MacDonald said she didn’t know the numbers specifically, but there would be a lot who would benefit from the treatment.
There is a long wait-list to get people to facilities, she said, adding there are not enough treatment beds in the province.
Detox is difficult to get people into, because Quesnel doesn’t have local detox and the clients must travel to a different community.
MacDonald said there is a great opportunity to look at the gaps because we need more detox beds.
Coleman said if Quesnel needed a 90-day detox facility, then we should look at it.
Property abutting facility
Coun. Ron Paull wondered if BC Housing would consider purchasing the small piece of property that abuts the edge of the facility.
The answer was BC Housing doesn’t anticipate a purchase would be necessary.
Paull said he would also like to see an agreement about cleaning the site up.
Coun. Paull brought up the “illicit drug use” being criminal, and he wanted to know the consequences before he voted.
In the end
Council gave first reading to Elliott Street Supportive Housing Bylaw #1841.
Councillors also agreed the current Caring for People with Addictions process undertaken by Northern Health and partners BCH and the City of Quesnel is sufficient to meet the requirement of developing a transition plan for services to be delivered in the community that are currently offered at Seasons House.
Council will be holding a public hearing on amendments to Official Community Plan and the Zoning Bylaw at the Quesnel & District Seniors’ Centre on Dec. 13, starting at 7 p.m.
Prior to the hearing, BCH will be hosting an information session at the centre from 5 to 7 p.m.