Crisis line request spurs heated debate at Parkville city council meeting about downloading

In the end, council voted to provide the crisis line $2,500

A request for support from the Vancouver Island Crisis Society turned into a rant against downloading by the provincial government at Parksville city council this week.

The society is contracted by Island Health to provide crisis line services. The society has expanded its service to include a chat line and texting, a move which executive director Elizabeth Newcombe said has been successful, but not part of the original contract with Island Health and needs funding to continue.

“Text was so reaching the youth,” Newcombe told The NEWS in an interview from her Nanaimo office this week. “But we are hurting financially.”

There were 797 calls from Parksville to the Vancouver Island Crisis Line from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. During that same period, there were 19 chat/text conversations originating from Parksville. Newcombe also said from those contacts, there was a total of 19 mental health community response team referrals and 12 interventions (by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, police and others) from Parksville.

The motion on the floor in Parksville Monday night was to take $2,500 from council’s contingency fund and give it to the society.

“This is more downloading from the provincial government,” said Coun. Sue Powell. “While I want to support the crisis line, I have difficulty with this — when do we say enough is enough? I’m drawing the line. I am not going to support it. I don’t particularly enjoy not supporting this. I don’t believe we should be held hostage because the government won’t pay.”

“I get the government is downloading, but if not us then who?” said Coun. Kirk Oates, calling the $2,500 a “modest amount” that worlds out to roughly 20 cents for every city resident. Oates said there could be consequences, including the death of a Parskville resident, if the crisis line doesn’t get the financial support it needs.

“I don’t want that on my conscience,” said Oates.

Coun. Leanne Salter said she has contact with the crisis society regularly through her work.

“I know how valuable they are in the community,” said Salter. “It’s very difficult for me to say no to something so valuable.”

In the end, council passed the motion to provide the society with $2,500, with councillors Powell and Al Greir opposed.

“We are very thankful for the City of Parksville’s financial contribution towards their local crisis line operation expansion to chat and texting services,” Newcombe said after learning about the vote.

On the Island last year, the crisis line received more than 30,000 calls and in her letter to council asking for support, Newcombe said 15 per cent of those involved an element of suicide.

“The world is changing and it is incumbent on us to keep up with these changes,” Newcombe wrote. “It can be difficult to incorporate new technology, but if we don’t, the people we support will soon be left behind.”

For information about the crisis line, including numbers to call and direction on how to donate, visit www.vicrisis.ca.

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