Residents in the Dunbar area of Vancouver are raising questions about how a scheme to provide homes for people with mental illness could affect their community.
Coast Mental Health Foundation wants to build an apartment building at 16th and Dunbar to house some 50 individuals with various mental illnesses. The foundation is aware that the idea of housing such people can cause concern in neighbourhoods. They are holding a series of public meetings to give residents an opportunity to speak out.
“The community as a whole would like to know that there are concrete guidelines that will be followed,” said one of the residents who attended a public meeting held on October 2.
“You’ll get a lot more people on your side if you can assure them of what will be acceptable for tenants’ [behaviour] and what won’t be,” he added, noting that he was worried about drug use among tenants.
Representatives from Coast tried to address his concerns by assuring him that although some tenants might have a history of addiction, the Dunbar building would not be a rehab facility.
Another resident said that he was “quite impressed with all the systems that will be in place to protect the community.” But he still wanted to know how Coast would analyze the effectiveness of those systems.
“I want to know that you’re going to have regular evaluations to assess how things are working and if the relationship with the community has been breached.”
The facility is scheduled to open in late 2010.
This was the second in a series of four meetings scheduled after the city announced the Dunbar site. The facility will be one of twelve new social and supportive housing projects. The city and various non-profit sponsors are jointly developing all twelve facilities.
The goal of the public meetings is to gather questions and comments from residents so that Coast can revise its draft Operations Management Plan.
Last week’s community meeting addressed issues related to staffing and support for the Dunbar facility, programs that will be offered to tenants, and safety and security issues for tenants and the neighbourhood at large.
Representatives from Coast Mental Health Foundation were on hand to answer residents’ questions and listen to their concerns.
Mixed reactions from residents
Darrell Burnham, executive director of Coast Mental Health Foundation, accepts that some have reservations about the development. He thinks the consultation process has been valuable in building community support. So far, the positive feedback he’s heard from the community outweighs concerns.
“What we’ve found is that there’s quite an engaged neighbourhood there already, and they have some coordinating groups in place,” Burnham said.
Some residents have raised questions about practical issues, such as loitering and garbage on the streets. Others have objected to this type of housing development being built in Dunbar.
Burnham has also received several phone calls from people wanting to get a loved one on a waitlist for the building.
The idea of the consultations was to create a way for residents to offer input on the Operations Management Plan. The plan will govern the way the housing development runs.
“I’ve been impressed with how willing to listen people have been, which is very helpful, particularly with change of any type,” Burnham says.
The next community meetings are scheduled for October 16 and 30 at the Dunbar Community Centre.