B.C. Housing takes blame for McCurdy house uproar: CEO - InfoNews

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B.C. Housing takes blame for McCurdy house uproar: CEO

Shayne Ramsay, CEO of B.C. Housing spoke at a Kelowna Chamber of Commerce lunch today, July 23, 2019
July 23, 2019 - 5:00 PM

KELOWNA - The head of B.C. Housing took responsibility today for the huge public backlash over the proposed McCurdy Road supportive housing project in Kelowna.

Shayne Ramsay, CEO of B.C. Housing spoke at a Kelowna Chamber of Commerce lunch meeting today, July 23, ostensibly about a HousingHub model that has been developed to help middle-income renters and home buyers.

But he took time during his presentation, and in a media scrum that followed, to talk about B.C. Housing’s proposed supportive housing complex on McCurdy Road in Rutland that triggered a massive petition campaign in opposition.

“What’s happened in the last little while with respect to McCurdy, we have to take a lot of responsibility for that,” Ramsay said, after praising Mayor Colin Basran and the Journey Home Society for doing a good job of communicating the needs of the homeless in Kelowna.

“When you get involved in a specific site and a specific project, it becomes a support/non-support issue, rather than saying ‘let’s have a general conversation about the need for this kind of housing,’” he said.

McCurdy is only the latest of at least four public outcries over such housing in less than two years. When asked why the communication strategy has not changed, he diverted the conversation to talk about the special circumstances at McCurdy, which has a history with the Knights of Columbus.

Along with the need to communicate the concept of supportive housing as a good tool to deal with homelessness, he did also suggest there needs to be smaller meetings with 25 to 30 people in affected neighbourhoods rather than big open houses.

But that strategy failed with the Agassiz project last fall where neighbours complained about the smaller meetings and protested at an open house held in November.

So, if it’s largely B.C. Housing’s fault for not communicating with residents better, what are they doing to allay the current fears around the McCurdy supportive housing project?

Originally labelled by protesters as a wet facility where illegal drugs and alcohol could be consumed in residents’ rooms and a supervised injection area on site, it was changed after protests to a “drier” facility where residents have to sign a commitment to not use illegal drugs and there is no supervised drug consumption room.

iNFOnews.ca asked for an interview with B.C. Housing to find out what the difference was between the two types of operations on July 18 but could only get email responses to specific questions, which arrived today.

Some questions were not answered directly and Ramsay had little to add to the few that could be put to him during the media scrum.

This is what we asked and the responses we received:

MCCURDY ROAD

Is this called a low-barrier or high-barrier facility?

The McCurdy Road supportive housing project will provide a safe and supportive home for 49 people in the community who have identified they want support in their recovery journey, are facing mental illness and/or physical disabilities, and youth ages 19 to 24. These homes will continue to build on the proven success from the City’s Journey Home Strategy.

Our partnership with the City has resulted in over 100 new units of barrier-free supportive housing units in Kelowna under the Housing First Model, aligned with the City’s Journey Home Strategy. Recognizing the range of existing supportive housing projects in Kelowna, we are pleased to work with the City on the McCurdy project as another option to help vulnerable residents.

Or, are all legal and illegal substances prohibited from being used on site? Can alcohol be consumed? Can cannabis be consumed?

Residents at McCurdy will sign a program agreement committing to not use illegal drugs on site.

Ramsay did say they can use alcohol and legal drugs on site. When asked if they would be evicted if they used illegal drugs off-site he said staff would notice they had used. It would depend on circumstances but “unless you’re able to manage that through our coordinated access process, we’re going to have to relocate you into another facility until you’re ready to try again.”

Will residents have to meet sobriety/clean requirements, similar to the NOW Canada facility on Tutt St. in Kelowna?

The NOW Canada facility on Tutt Street is family-based housing with supports for women reuniting with their children.

McCurdy Road will provide an additional housing option for residents who are further along in their journey of recovery. Residents at McCurdy will sign a program agreement committing to not use illegal drugs on site.

Each potential resident will be considered individually to ensure that the housing and services provided match their needs, such as life skills training, employment assistance and help accessing a range of social and health care services.

Will it have a minimum of two staff on site 24 hours a day?

Yes, a minimum of two staff will be onsite and available at McCurdy Road 24/7 to ensure that residents are supported and that any concerns are addressed in a timely manner.

A nurse, apparently, will be on site. Is that 24/7 or what hours?
A nurse will be available on site seven days a week as required by the residents. We do not anticipate requiring 24/7 medical supports.

What is the increased security that is being provided for the first six months?

To ensure a smooth integration into the community, we are committed to providing additional security when the project first opens. We will be working with the RCMP, Interior Health, the City and our other community partners to finalize the details of security services.

What age of residents will be allowed? If it’s 19-25, will people be evicted on their 25th birthday?

McCurdy will welcome residents aged 19+. Successful applicants will include a range of people experiencing homelessness, including those who have identified they want support in their recovery journey, people with mental illness, people with physical disabilities, and youth ages 19 to 24. Youth are welcome to stay after age 24.

Is it possible to convert this back to a low barrier (“wet”) facility?  If so, what is the process for doing that?

Our focus is on operating the McCurdy Road project as outlined above.

Ramsay said B.C. Housing was able to make that change because there are 10 other “wet” facilities in Kelowna so there are other options.

NEW GATE (existing supportive housing in Kelowna) -- I understand that it was high barrier but has been converted to low barrier. When did that happen? Why did that happen? What staffing changes were made to facilitate that change? Does it now have a supervised injection room?

New Gate opened in 2012. At that time, in Canada, we did not have an opioid crisis. By 2016 conditions changed and B.C. had declared a public health emergency.

Today, in response to current best practices and to align with the City’s Journey Home Strategy, New Gate, like other supportive housing homes, follows the evidence-based and internationally demonstrated Housing First model, which aims to end chronic homelessness by simultaneously providing stable housing and working with residents to promote recovery and well being.

Our staff and community partners like Interior Health provide ongoing guidance, encouragement and support to individuals living in supportive housing. Learn more about Housing First.

Questions that were not answered by B.C. Housing
GENERAL STATISTICS

Is it known how many of the 527 on the waiting list for supportive housing have Substance Use Disorder?

If there is a number, have those people been diagnosed?

What percentage of people who normally go into a low barrier facility have Substance Use Disorder?

Ramsay did say “people who are homeless, a large per cent would have mental heath and addiction issues.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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