B.C. finally has a plan for the most difficult people to house in Kamloops and Kelowna | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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B.C. finally has a plan for the most difficult people to house in Kamloops and Kelowna

Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby.
Image Credit: Flickr/Government of B.C.

It’s been decades since the “deinstitutionalization movement” emptied out places like Riverview Hospital and threw people with serious mental health issues out onto the streets of B.C.

Finally, B.C. has a homelessness strategy in the final draft that will be released in the coming weeks, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby, told iNFOnews.ca.

One key element of that plan will be housing for those with complex needs – generally serious mental health and substance abuse issues.

“When the big deinstitutionalization movement was popular in the 70s and the 80s, this was the idea, that there would be community-centered services for people who are able to live outside an institution, that there would be mental health supports, that they wouldn’t be left, essentially, to their own devices to try to survive on the street,” Eby said. “Unfortunately, as we all know, with the closing of Riverview those services never materialized. That human tragedy resulted in a lot of what we still see on the streets of many communities today. That gap has never been filled.”

To date, his government has been “reactive” to homelessness, dealing with things like encampments by building supportive housing complexes that have triggered strong pushback in many communities.

“The goal is to try to be more interventionist sooner to prevent people from being homeless for a period of time and to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place,” Eby said.

There are some people who are suffering from such severe mental illness that they have to be involuntarily confined. That process has its limitations since things like addictions and criminality don’t qualify.

Still, more beds have been provided for a growing number of people who do need that kind of institutionalization.

READ MORE: 'Falling through the cracks': City councillor looks for answers on Kelowna's street entrenched population

The complex needs part of the homelessness strategy is to focus on those who need extra help to function while still living within the community.

“The idea of this housing is that it is voluntary,” Eby stressed. “The people are provided services according to what they need because they have health care needs that the health authorities are funded by the province to be able to do that. Instead of being evicted because you’re hoarding stuff in your room or acting violently towards staff or neighbours in the building, the opportunity would be there to provide more services to address the core issue rather than to evict someone onto the streets which is what happens right now.”

Four complex care sites are being developed in the Lower Mainland because they had physical structures suited to that purpose already in place and staffing ready to go.

Eby hopes there will be money in the April provincial budget for more complex care sites.

“Kamloops could be one of those sites because I know the community has really been struggling with really high impact, high visibility addiction and mental health issues that could benefit from a complex care site,” Eby said.

He outlined that part of the strategy to Kamloops City Council last week.

READ MORE: Supportive housing, complex care priority for Kamloops: B.C. housing minister

While Eby stressed the need for a complex care site in Kamloops and he hoped the provincial budget in April will fund it, Susan Brown, president and CEO of Interior Health, told iNFOnews.ca that bringing that plan to fruition will take some time yet and that both Kamloops and Kelowna are being considered.

"The first piece will be solidifying where it will happen," Brown said. "We're very much in discussion about the where right now, then we'll be building out what kind of services will be available. This could be an existing building that will likely need renovations and retrofits to suit the needs of the complex care model, or it could be a new build."

Both options will require partnership with B.C. Housing and the municipality, she said.

"Both Mayor (Colin) Basran and Mayor (Ken) Christian, and their city councils, have done quite a bit of work on this, so we hope to leverage that work," Brown said.

Because finding a location for complex care facilities in Kamloops and Kelowna is still in early stages, Brown said staffing needs will be determined once Interior Health has worked out what services are needed full time at these facilities and which will be "tailored" to individual patients.

She added that it's likely a complex care facility would be built in areas of the city that are close to existing services.

While that is one piece of the homelessness puzzle, there won’t be any quick end to homelessness, Eby said.

“Despite our best efforts, as a result of the pandemic and other factors, we’re seeing homelessness increase across the province so that’s why the homeless strategy is going to be very important,” he said. “We lost a lot of ground during the pandemic for two reasons. One was people who were precariously housed, especially in smaller communities, were displaced by those who were moving out to work remotely. That is one factor and the services that kept people in housing weren’t available as they used to be. In addition, we had a lot of people move to British Columbia. We had 25,000 people move to B.C. in the last quarter so it’s been a perfect storm on our housing market.”

The federal and provincial governments consulted housing experts and released a report called Opening Doors: unlocking housing supply for affordability last June.

The federal government will hold a “supply summit” in about a month and a half to see what the housing situation looks like across the country and how municipalities can be encouraged to support more affordable housing.

That will be another piece of the puzzle focussed on ways to keep people housed.

 - With files from Levi Landry.

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