Parksville supportive housing foes propose alternative development

Councillor pushes back against characterization of addicts

Comments from a delegation proposing an alternative to a supportive housing project in Parksville drew a harsh response from Coun. Sue Powell during Parksville’s regular council meeting Wednesday, June 6.

Doug O’Brien and Adam Fras, leaders of a group opposed to the housing first project at 222 Corfield St., appeared as a delegation to propose an alternative, affordable rental housing project on the site. But Powell took exception to the pair’s characterization of drug-addicted people who could potentially be residents of supportive housing.

“I don’t know if everybody in this room knows, but I’m an addict,” said Powell. “I’ve been clean and sober for 30 years. I was one of those people you’re talking about tonight, who didn’t have anything, who’s trying to look after my own kids. And thank God there was treatment out of the community.

“You guys can’t talk about this if you don’t know it. I’m sorry, Doug, but you’re not an addict; don’t speak for me.”

On March 9, The Ministry of Housing announced $6.9 million to construct up to 52 units of housing for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and who need additional supports and services. It would include a temporary overnight shelter to be open through the winter months. BC Housing committed to additional operational funding that will provide support staff of two to five people 24/7, said Violet Hayes of Island Crisis Care Centre, which will be contracted to run the facility.

Almost immediately, opponents to the housing-first project began raising objections, most of them revolving around the inclusion of intravenous drug users among the homeless people potentially eligible. A group, which shares information at the website www.parksvilleshelter.com, says the project will endanger families in the neighbourhood, drive away tourism and reduce property values.

Its solution has been to either scrap the project and start over, or to move the supportive housing out of Parksville’s downtown core. But that changed Wednesday when O’Brien suggested another alternative.

“BC Housing offers a model called affordable rental housing, and its residents would be protected by the B.C. Tenancy Act,” said O’Brien. “It’s like this was a custom-made project for Parksville.”

O’Brien envisions a mix of seniors, families with children and persons with disabilities in the affordable rental housing, which would be a “welcomed solution” to the project at 222 Corfield St.

O’Brien said he forwarded a copy of the proposal to Craig Crawford, BC Housing vice-president. While suggesting Crawford was encouraging, O’Brien admitted he has not heard back from BC Housing on the proposal.

Coun. Mary Beil asked if O’Brien’s vision included BC Housing paying for the rental housing construction. He said yes, and noted that the province would actually save money, because they would not have to staff the affordable rental housing as they would for supportive housing. O’Brien expressed his belief that the city had a policy to waive development cost charges (DCCs) on all affordable housing projects, though councillors corrected that impression and said waivers are issued on a case-by-case basis.

Coun. Leanne Salter noted the opposition group has stated the proposed supportive housing is “flawed,” and asked O’Brien and Fras to explain some flaws.

“You’re in a community that doesn’t have (drug) treatment here; they have to leave to another community,” said Fras. “If they spend their time here building relationships and making friends and getting to know staff members, it breaks the continuity of those relationships that have been helpful to them, if they have to go to another community to live.”

That statement, along with comments from O’Brien, led to Powell’s reaction to statements made by members of the group or social media posts since mid-March and during its collection of hundreds of signatures on a petition asking council to reject the Corfield project.

“I have to tell you, Adam, I went into a business after you’d been there and they said they were taking their signatures off, because you were dishonest with them,” Powell said. “You led them to believe there was a safe injection site in that building, so they were chasing you down.”

Powell also disagreed with O’Brien’s characterization of a series of newspaper advertisements run over the past month by the the Oceanside Task Force on Homelessness, seeking support for the supportive housing project. O’Brien characterized the ads as “aggressive” and containing misinformation because they didn’t state drug use would be allowed in the housing and that needles would be provided.

“When is an omission a lie?” O’Brien asked. “In fact, the amount of agression in the ads being taken out it looks like bullying to these neighbours, and bullying is not acceptible.”

“I don’t think they are bullying when you say they put the advertisement in the paper,” Powell replied. “They’re informing the public. I can read anything and intuit that they’re missing this and they’re missing that. But I don’t want to play that game. I want to go forward with what we have, do the public hearing and make a decision. I make a decision at this table based on the community.”

For more information on the supportive housing project, and the organizations involved, visit www.oceansidehomelessness.com.

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