A leading critic of an addict housing facility proposed for Rutland is suspicious about the sincerity of BC Housing’s decision to change the building’s operating model.
Rutland could still end up with a “wet” facility, where residents can do illegal drugs without fear of eviction, Audra Boudreau fears.
“There is absolutely nothing holding BC Housing to its words, vague as that was, anyway,” Boudreau says. “The apparent compromise is weak on details.”
Boudreau helped lead a petition campaign that garnered 14,000 signatures from people opposed to the previous operating model for the 46-suite complex at the corner of Rutland Road and McCurdy Road.
Like other so-called supportive housing projects, the initial plan for the Rutland building was one that would allow residents to maintain tenancy even if they refused to undergo treatment or counselling programs.
At a special council meeting Wednesday, Mayor Colin Basran announced BC Housing had agreed to change the operating model. Now, people accepted for tenancy have to agree to not use illegal drugs.
Other revisions agreed to by BC Housing include extra staff and security for the first six months of the building’s operation and having a nurse on site seven days a week.
Kelowna already has more than 130 suites in supportive housing complexes where there is no ban on tenants using illegal drugs.
“Recognizing the range of existing supportive housing projects in the community, we are pleased to work with the city on the McCurdy project to help vulnerable residents,” NDP Housing Minister Selina Robinson said.
“City council is pleased with the changes BC Housing has made to the operating model,” said Basran. “The development is an important step in advancing the Journey Home (anti-homelessness) strategy, which will help to address the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
But Boudreau says there doesn’t appear to be anything in writing that commits BC Housing to keeping the McCurdy building “dry” in perpetuity. And she says it’s simply unrealistic to expect staff will be able to prevent building residents from doing illegal drugs.
Sometime down the road, Boudreau said, BC Housing may quietly change the building’s operating policy to allow residents to use illegal drugs in their suites.
“In the end, I believe Rutland will have a wet facility at this location,” she said. “Our elected officials have let Rutland down yet again.”
Many critics of the addict housing complex had hoped BC Housing would change the nature of the building so that it would house low-income families. With a supportive housing facility, they worry about increased crime and drug use in the area, which has a number of schools.
For his part, Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal MLA Norm Letnick, who had urged BC Housing to put the project on hold given the community’s opposition, said the government must do more to provide treatment facilities for drug addicts.
“I will continue to advocate with the minister of health and Interior Health for improved wraparound services for the hardest to house, more detox and post-detox options,” Letnick said.