'This is part of the solution': Penticton supportive housing complex operator positive about change new model could bring

'This is part of the solution'

Casey Richardson

A locally-operated recovery housing complex is nearing completion in Penticton, ready to start helping individuals on their road to recovery.

ASK Wellness Society and Ooknakane Friendship Centre, in partnership with BC Housing, are soon opening a building representing a Syilx name, which is also known as Healing House.

BC Housing purchased 3240 Skaha Lake Rd. in 2020 and made plans for the supportive housing building with round-the-clock staffing focused on low-income individuals in recovery from addiction.

“As I think many people are aware, it's been a long journey to get us here. It had some barriers with being developed with the City of Penticton, that were very concerned about more low barrier housing coming to the community,” Bob Hughes with ASK Wellness Society said.

“I think what I'm very proud about is the fact that throughout this journey, we've managed to maintain the fidelity of our presentation, which is to see this building as a recovery-focused housing community, where folks will be able to live in an environment that will support their ability to maintain recovery.”

The building has 52 studio apartments that will be suitable for one program participant and two one-bedroom units that can house couples who are on their recovery journey together. Each apartment has its own bathroom and kitchenette and comes with basic furnishings.

The building is equipped with laundry facilities and a commercial kitchen on the main floor. Program participants will have access to two meals per day.

Staff at the housing program include housing support workers, peer recovery support coaches, employment rehabilitation workers, a drug and alcohol counsellor and a cultural support worker.

“Part of the whole vision for the building was to create a kind of complementary housing community to what exists in the community today. So we've got shelters, and then we've got buildings like Burdock and Fairhaven,” Hughes said.

He added that over the last six months, they have been working with partners like Interior Health, the RCMP, and Discovery House to help shape the vision of this building.

Operations are expected to begin shortly, with the program opening in early this summer. Move-ins are projected to begin in June.

Hughes said the intake for the program will start off slowly, with between eight to ten people admitted.

“We really want to make sure we get it right. And as I think I shared at city council, this is a pretty innovative model of providing longer-term living with pretty extensive support services embedded in the building. Our alcohol and drug counsellor directly that works for us [will be] in the building. I think historically, a lot of supportive housing has been reliant on outside services from the Health Authority, and that has not resulted in the kind of robust programming that we'd hoped for.”

The staffing model will also include cultural support programming and vocational support.

Hughes said working in full partnership with the Ooknakane Friendship Centre has been incredibly important, co-creating the model with cultural programming and committing to space for Indigenous people.

“We'll have that kind of Indigenous lens around healing and recovery and wellness. So [that] really kind of bio psychosocial spiritual model, that more of that kind of medicine wheel of helping people get well. It won't be prescriptive, we're not going to tell people you have to do this to do recovery,” he added.

Two units, with four beds available, will be set aside at FairHaven if a resident ends up relapsing.

“The model with that is if people are struggling, if they do end up relapsing and it's compromising the welfare of everybody else in the building and the neighbourhood, then we would pull them out and give them an opportunity to really double down on their recovery and then be able to re-entry back into the building,” Hughes said.

“That's one of the things that I think again, unique, is often we see in treatment and recovery a person goes off the rails and they have nowhere to go, and so they end up back on the streets.”

While there was originally some trepidation in the community over the new build, Hughes said taking time to speak to neighbours and advisory committees allowed for a better understanding of what the program will be.

“We have an onsite coordinator whose exclusive job is to manage this building and so he'll be available for any questions, comments, feedback. We want to be part of the neighbourhood,” he added.

“I want to really reiterate that this is recovery focused, this is not setting up a facility where there's active drug use permitted.”

There’s hope for people to look at the program with an open mind.

“We respect that people are afraid of something new. And knowing just the tragedy that we see of the opioid and drug crisis in our community, the rates of property crime, I can understand people's fear. But, I really invite people to learn more about what we're trying to do, and and frankly, to lean in and say, ‘Yeah, this is part of the solution to addictions and homelessness,' is providing a setting that has these expectations to live here.”

The program is funded by BC Housing. ASK Wellness Society and Ooknakane Friendship Centre submitted a partnered Request for Proposals (RFP) in January 2021 and were successful.

Those interested in applying for supportive housing can submit an application to the Supportive Housing Registration Service. The process is outlined on BC Housing’s website online here.

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