Mayors urge ‘complex care’ housing for people with severe mental-health challenges

The mayors of B.C.’s 13 largest municipalities want the provincial government to launch a pilot project in which people with severe mental-health challenges and other problems will receive intensive help at new “complex care” housing sites.

Under pressure to deal with street disorder and homelessness in their communities, the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus pitched the idea at a meeting this week with Attorney General David Eby and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson.

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Both Eby and Malcolmson received mandate letters from Premier John Horgan directing them to work toward providing “an increased level of support — including more access to nurses and psychiatrists — for B.C.’s most vulnerable who need more intensive care than supportive housing provides.”

In light of that, the mayors envision a test run at five sites — each with 40 to 50 beds — for people who continue to slip through the cracks despite the government’s investment in temporary housing at former hotels and motels.

“In a nutshell, we’re talking about folks who are at harm to themselves and the public, who don’t fit in the current model of supportive housing being provided by the provincial government, which means they need more intensive care,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, who co-chairs the mayors’­ caucus with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Basran said the mayors are not talking about institutionalizing people, but they do want to see smaller facilities where people can get more help than is available elsewhere. Their plan calls for one facility on the Island, one in the north, one in the Interior and two on the Lower Mainland.

“I would say that the institutions that people remember of the past are not at all what we are envisioning,” he said. “We believe that what would be provided would be compassionate care and supports, which is what these people deserve.”

Helps said the details would be left to the government and health experts.

“Whether it will be voluntary or involuntary residency, who knows?” Helps said. “All of that is still to be determined. We’re just mayors; we don’t know how to do that kind of complex health stuff. But what we signalled to the ministers is we’re interested in the ­discussion, we want pilots in our communities, and we want them to define the population and define the level of care just as soon as possible.”

Both Basran and Helps said the ministers were receptive to the idea, but made no firm commitments.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” Helps said. “If there is, in the 2021 budget, a pilot project for five complex-care housing sites across the province, that’s when the ­official yes will come. But I can certainly say that there was keen interest.”

Malcolmson was unavailable for an interview Friday, but issued a statement welcoming the mayors’ support for the ­government’s work on complex-care housing.

“After so many years where the old government gutted services and let homelessness skyrocket, there are people with very complex needs who require the higher level of care that complex-care housing will provide — including more access to nurses and ­psychiatrists,” she said.

“There is significant work ahead to develop and build this new type of housing and we are actively working across ministries and with all of our partners as quickly as possible, because we understand the urgency for people and communities.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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