B.C.’s mental-health and addictions minister says the province is working as fast as it can to create a new kind of housing and help for people who are so troubled that they end up getting kicked out of even the lowest-barrier supportive housing.
“But our goal is to make sure we implement this at a pace that is sustainable,” said Sheila Malcolmson, in response to The Globe and Mail’s reporting last week showing that hundreds of people every year get evicted from or leave what is meant to be last-resort housing when their behaviour overwhelms providers.
“This is a first-of-its-kind housing type. These are the kinds of services that should have been put in place when [mental health facility] Riverview closed.”
So-called complex care housing adds to the supports that are typically provided in what is called supportive housing, which usually includes some combination of mentoring; help with arranging visits to doctors, psychiatrists or nurses; food programs; wellness checks; and social-activity organization. Complex care, in which residents participate voluntarily, adds various kinds of medical help that is on site at a resident’s home, rather than by appointment elsewhere.
The ministry said this week the province has 100 complex-care units already in place out of a planned 500 that are being funded with $164-million. In Vancouver, for example, 44 apartments at the Jim Green social-housing project in the Downtown Eastside are now designated for complex care.
Ms. Malcomson said it’s exactly the kind of place for a couple like Rook and Claire, the couple featured in The Globe last week who were evicted from their temporary-modular-housing apartments in east side Vancouver as a result of not paying rent for two years and damaging their apartment so badly it became uninhabitable. The couple, who had a baby in January that was immediately apprehended, have been homeless the past six months.
B.C.’s urban mayors say the new complex care program, which only got government funding in February, is arriving painfully slowly and is still leaving some gaps. Some are even arguing for an additional level of housing that would be a kind of institutionalization.
“The province has been slow to roll that out,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran. He and Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said people experiencing homelessness with increasingly difficult behaviour problems, along with the separate issue of repeat criminal activity in public places, is the main issue large B.C. cities face.
Those mayors, part of a group of 13 from the province’s largest cities, have been on a campaign for two years to get the province to provide more effective solutions for the growing number of distressed people experiencing homelessness in their cities who are often suffering from severe brain damage, mental illness, drug use or a combination of the three.
Mr. Basran and Ms. Helps said the current initiative is hampered because the province is trying to carve complex care units out of existing subsidized units.
“We need stand-alone and new spaces,” said Mr. Basran.
Both the Kelowna and Victoria mayors gave the current government credit for at least introducing the program, which provides a level of support not seen before.
“The government has made us a promise that no one will be evicted. That is a game changer,” said Ms. Helps.
Data from BC Housing obtained by The Globe showed that almost 1,800 people who had been given supportive-housing apartments – about a quarter of everyone in the system – ended up leaving them during a 20-month period ending Dec. 31 last year. More than 350 were evicted, while another 650 left for “other” reasons that gave no indication whether they were moving to other housing or would be homeless again. In Victoria, the eviction rate was particularly high, with 80 people out of 276 apartments available being evicted in that time.
Ms. Helps said changing that statistic is mandatory if anything is going to improve in her city.
But, she said, there needs to be new buildings and those projects need to be designed in a way that people who have been homeless will want to live in them.
She said many people leave supportive housing because they end up isolated in small rooms with no way to connect with others.
“People don’t want to go inside because they’re afraid to be lonely. So they go to the street where they can feel a sense of community.”
However, both Mr. Basran and Mr. Krog said there needs to be a level of housing even beyond that, an involuntary option for people whose challenges can’t be met even within the complex-care model.
“The complex-care model is going to prevent people already in housing from ending up on the streets. But there is a need for many among the existing homeless for secure, involuntary care,” said Mr. Krog.
That’s something that would-be premier David Eby has talked about as a possibility recently, a stance that produced criticism from people who said forcing drug users into sobriety is inhumane and ultimately not workable.
But Mr. Krog and Mr. Basran said their proposal was not about forced sobriety, but about making sure there is secure housing to protect people with brain damage and very severe mental illness from hurting themselves and others. Researchers and mental health advocates say that violence is not common among those with severe mental illness, and that its rare occurrence is linked to other social problems people may face, like abuse.
“We have no problem doing that for someone who has Alzheimer’s,” said Mr. Basran. “Why wouldn’t we have a scenario where we do the same for these people.”
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