McCurdy model changed

The City of Kelowna has reached an agreement with BC Housing to change the operating model of a controversial supportive housing complex at 130 McCurdy Rd.

At a special council meeting Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Colin Basran said an agreement was reached Wednesday, which changes the 49-unit facility from one that allows residents to use drugs in the facility to one where residents will have to commit to not using illegal drugs as part of their wellness program.

"Successful applicants to 130 McCurdy Road will be a range of people experiencing homelessness, including those who have identified they want support in their recovery journey. People with mental illness, people with physical disabilities, and youth aged 19 to 24," said Basran.

"All residents selected for this supportive housing at 130 McCurdy Road will make a commitment to ongoing recovery as part of their residency."

Basran said the facility will be for those individuals further along in their recovery.

In essence, the city and the province reverted to the original intent of the property when it was first rezoned for Freedom House, a recovery house for men who had already completed treatment and were looking to transition back into society.

That would have been a dry facility, however, it was scrapped when the province removed funding after changing its model to wet, or low-barrier supportive housing.

Despite the compromise, many in the packed gallery felt they had been let down, and vowed to keep up the fight.

"BC Housing has shown time and again they can switch their dry housing facilities to wet housing. I believe that's what they are planning on doing, that's what they will likely do," said Audra Boudreau, who presented a 14,000 name petition to council Monday.

"That is their goal. Their goal is to open wet housing facilities everywhere. They are converting dry ones they are currently funding to wet ones."

She didn't go so far as to say BC Housing lied to the city, but did state they can make a temporary commitment and change their mind later.

"Where's the contract. Where's the contract that they will not change this later."

Boudreau said her group will continue on with the petition and ask MLA Norm Letnick to present it in the legislature when it reconvenes in the fall.

As part of the agreement with BC Housing, the facility will not include an overdose prevention site, however, there will be a nurse on staff seven days a week.

Additional security and staff will also be on site for the first six months to ensure a smooth transition into the neighbourhood.

One-by-one, councillors applauded the resolve of those in the neighbourhood and around Rutland who made their voices heard throughout the entire process, and played a significant role in getting the city and the province to the compromise they reached.

Coun. Luke Stack said, despite the skepticism, he has confidence those running the facility will do a good job.

"I have faith," he said, pointing to other similar facilities such as NOW Canada and Cardington.

"I do think we'll have some bumps along the way, but at the end of the day, if we are going to move to a healthier community, we have to have housing for people, and we have to have options."

Coun. Mohini Singh said she hopes the decision Wednesday will bring some level of peace to Rutland.

Coun. Gail Given took another approach, taking issue with what she called "fear-based" comments.

She stated wet and dry facilities are not entirely accurate, saying every apartment is town can be a wet facility.

"I'm sorry, but drug use is happening in apartment blocks all over your neighbourhood," she said.

"If you look at who's dying in the opioid crisis. You ask some of the parents who have lost their children to fentanyl deaths, they're happening in apartments all around town. They're happening to good families."

Given said the city is challenged with more than just the addicted on the the street.

She also added people should not look at this decision as a blueprint to halt, or alter other projects in the city.

"I'm fearful that everybody will think this is the path to second stage housing in every situation. It's not. You can't have a whole bunch of second stage housing without having first stage housing."

There was some discussion about bring rezoning and development permit bylaws back for reconsideration, however, that motion was handily defeated.

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