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Surrey, Abbotsford, Vancouver get first centres for homeless people

Mayors called for end to ‘catch and release’ justice system
Tent camp in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria B.C., April 2021. Campers in urban regions are often people who have refused shelter space, or have been expelled from local shelters. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press Media)

Surrey will host the first of four “complex care” facilities for people whose mental illness and drug habits take them from supportive housing to the streets to jail.

After an outcry from B.C. mayors about rising crime and street disorder, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson announced Jan. 20 that four supportive housing facilities will be upgraded to handle people with aggressive behaviour. The first will be at Foxglove, with 39 single-room transition and shelter spaces in Surrey run by Raincity Housing. Foxglove also has 99 studio apartments termed supportive housing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

The Red Lion in Abbotsford will be another, and two facilities in Vancouver will also be upgraded to deal with people who have repeatedly ended up on the streets in what mayors call a “catch and release” police and courts system. Naomi Place in Vancouver has 58 studio apartments, and Jim Green Residence has 66 one-bedroom units in the Downtown Eastside.

Malcolmson said the Red Lion in Abbotsford has eight units of supportive housing, and the new facility may move to another location. Foxglove’s complex care spaces are to be up and running by March, and others will be ready “in the coming months,” Malcolmson said.

The B.C. government is committing $4.8 million to upgrading the four sites, paid from the health ministry budget and transferred to the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions, who will hire contractors to run the facilities.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Brain and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said people with addictions, mental illness and in many cases brain injuries that may be from overdoses, don’t fit into the current shelter and supportive housing network.

“These simply aren’t the kinds of problems that can be solved by the justice system,” Stewart said.

Attorney General David Eby acknowledged the long-standing problem of crime and disorder.

“The current housing system is not working for those with serious mental-health and addiction issues who cycle in and out of shelters, jail and emergency rooms,” Eby said.

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