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Community split on plan for addictions treatment centre in downtown Parksville

Some speakers described how they had lost children to addiction, while others said downtown is not the right location for the facility

Emotions were running high at a public hearing on plans for a 19-bed addictions treatment centre in downtown Parksville.

Some cried. Voices shook as some told their own addiction stories, crediting their eventual success to their ability to attend a treatment program. Some speakers described how they had lost children to addiction.

They told council that they or family members were forced to go out of town, sometimes to the Lower Mainland, for treatment because of a lack of facilities in their own community.

Others talked about spending tens of thousands of dollars on private care for family members — or being unable to afford treatment when it was desperately needed.

Lisa Stockton, who has worked at a treatment centre in Nanaimo for 23 years, pointed to her own experiences to dispel myths about treatment centres.

While some worry that street issues will be exacerbated by the presence of a treatment centre, Stockton said drug dealers don’t hang around the Nanaimo facility trying to sell drugs. “But many have come for treatment and have their lives given back to them.”

The facility even has a daycare on site so women with children can go into treatment.

Since the Nanaimo treatment facility opened in 1994, “thousands of people have gotten their lives back,” Stockton said. “Families have become reunited and people have hope.”

One woman who spoke at the hearing called her time in treatment “life-saving.”

No one at the Nov. 22 public hearing said Island Health’s proposed treatment centre in the former Elizabeth Manor Seniors Home is not necessary.

The question is whether 188 McCarter St. should be rezoned to allow the facility in that location.

In B.C., a total of 1,600 people died from toxic, unregulated drugs in the first eight months of this year, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

Parksville council will vote Dec. 4 on third reading of the rezoning bylaw. If it goes ahead, fourth and final reading will follow.

Island Health officials earlier told council that the plan is to operate a voluntary 90-day abstinence-based treatment program. Participants would be assessed to make sure they are suitable. The facility would not be open to those who are actively using substances, medically unstable or a risk to themselves or others.

Participants will go through intensive treatment, learn recovery skills and take part in recovery groups.

When participants complete the program, they will return to their home communities via transportation provided by Island Health, officials said.

A community-led advisory committee would be established as well, Island Health has said.

Kristy Crispin, who owns a nearby daycare, remained unconvinced, saying people are scared they will see overdoses and needles on the street.

The proposal is a “great idea in a different location,” she said.

Representatives of businesses and Berwick Parksville seniors home questioned whether McCarter Street is an appropriate site for a treatment facility, given that the tourism-focused town is striving to revitalize its downtown core.

Amir Hemani, chief executive of Berwick Retirement Communities, said their concern is about the location. “If council approves this type of use in the downtown, which is a significant departure from the stated uses in the [official community plan], then you are announcing to the public that your OCP can not be relied on for reasonable guidance as it is subject to consequential and glaring deviations in account outcomes.”

Hemani urged council to find a different location for the facility.

Teresa Cooper, executive director of the Parksville Downtown Business Association, said a survey last month found that 70 per cent of its 288 members were opposed to the location.

Parksville resident Norman Patterson backed the centre, however, saying there is a need in the community.

“It will be a well-run facility,” he said. “I think it is something that will add a lot to helping people recover … I don’t think we’d have any problems in that location.”

Businessman Peter Jorgensen urged council to give the treatment facility a chance. “Let’s move forward. Let’s help clean up the street because I’m very dissatisfied with what I’m seeing on a daily basis.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com