Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron Column: Health and Wellness Centre will find its place in the community

After years of debate and controversy over where in the Cowichan Valley it should be placed, the controversial Health and Wellness Centre opened its doors on York Road on Nov. 1 with little or no fanfare.

There has been a lot of opposition to the facility by many of its neighbours in the York Road area, both residential and commercial, and they have organized marches, protests, and put a lot of pressure on Island Health and local politicians to place it somewhere else.

But Island Health said that the health authority had investigated many other potential sites for the centre, which offers a broad range of mental health and substance-use services that focus on prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, in the Cowichan Valley, and determined that the location on York Road was the only one available that will meet the centre’s needs.

It certainly does check many of the boxes required for such a centre to be successful, including being in a central location where those who use its services can easily get to.

There is really no point in have such a centre located away from the general population where those that need it most can’t access it.

Of course I do understand the concerns that many have; including open drug use on the streets in the neighbourhood, increased crime and lowered property values.

I’ve visited the neighbourhood numerous times over the years and there are times when it felt and looked more like a war zone than the mainly residential area that it is.

But the centre is in place and open now, and it appears those that oppose the centre’s location will have to adjust to it being there and work with members of the Lookout Housing and Health Society, who will run the facility, to keep the related problems in the neighbourhood to a minimum.

It should be pointed out that the society has a long history of successfully running similar facilities all over B.C. since the 1970s, so the Health and Wellness Centre is not exactly its first kick at the can in keeping such operations from becoming a blight in the neighbourhoods in which they operate.

Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, visited the centre shortly after it opened and said she has confidence that the society will do all it can to alleviate any concerns in the neighbourhood that are raised due to the presence of the centre and its clients.

She said society members will go out into the community and connect with people who need the centre’s help and do their best to get them the care they need.

That means many that were in the neighbourhood before the centre opened, creating problems for the residents and themselves can now receive help to get them off their addictions, off the streets and into better lives if they want it.

I’d bet that after a few months of the society running the centre, the neighbourhood will see a marked improvement as more and more people that had become problems get the help they need and move on.

Malcolmson also touted the community advisory committee, consisting of members of the public, local governments, first responders, Cowichan Tribes, service providers and residential and commercial neighbours of the centre, that Island Health has established to meet regularly to identify the problems in the community related to the centre and find ways to mitigate them.

The centre has been a controversial issue for more than a year now, and I recognize and applaud the strenuous efforts of the community members who fought so hard to have it placed elsewhere.

But it’s in place and open now, so we all must work together to try to make it as successful as it can be.

Everyone will be a winner if the centre is given the time and the assistance it needs to achieve its goals.

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