A motion introduced by a councillor that would see city staff explore the potential of developing a wellness ranch for the addicted and mentally ill was ultimately defeated by council, but spurred a lengthy discussion about the need for more treatment options in Kamloops.
Coun. Denis Walsh told council on Tuesday his motion was about shifting to long-term planning with a focus on recovery.
“What we have been doing is not working, at least for a large portion of marginalized homeless people and mentally ill, and especially the residents and business owners in Kamloops. I think we need another option, another model to look at,” Walsh said.
“To me, a healthy society needs to provide places for people in addiction and homelessness to basically try and get better, to stabilize their lives, and we need a greater focus on recovery models to help people get those lives back.”
Walsh’s motion had put forward a number of directives for city staff, including studying the city’s potential to create a wellness centre, with life skills programs and recreation opportunities for those struggling with addiction.
Further, staff would have been asked to look at the possibility of using a portion of the Kamloops Ranch property — located in Rayleigh — for a complex care facility with support services, and to create a financial partnership with other levels of government that would help provide programs.
Parts of Walsh’s motion had support from some councillors, including Coun. Bill Sarai, who said while the city would be “way out of our realm” to create a wellness centre on its own, more needs to be done to address issues related to addiction.
“We need to do more with other agencies and higher levels of government. The shelter is not the place for these people to get the help,” Sarai said.
Coun. Mike O’Reilly said Walsh shouldn’t have identified Rayleigh as a possible location in his motion, and suggested partnering with TNRD to identify a potential location for a project that would ultimately need to be funded by other levels of government.
A number of residents from Rayleigh attended the city council meeting to express concerns about a potential facility being constructed near their neighbourhood.
“There’s a lot of things that we need in this city,” O’Reilly said, adding that municipalities aren’t responsible for building complex care facilities, just like they don’t construct schools, healthcare facilities or houses.
“That’s not what we do as a municipality. We are a partner at the table with BC Housing to identify potential places where possible shelters or locations that people can live to basically protect our most vulnerable in the community. And that's a lot of what our role is,” O’Reilly said.
Coun. Dieter Dudy said there are certainly challenges faced by the community with respect to a street-embedded population, but said he had several questions about Walsh’s motion that hadn’t been addressed, including who would run and fund the facility, and how public safety would be ensured.
“There's so many questions and many more beyond this. But that said, we also know that as a local government, we are not equipped to build, finance, run a facility of this nature,” Dudy said.
“We neither have the resources nor — and more importantly — the expertise to do this. This is a provincial responsibility, and as such should be regarded that way.”
Coun. Kathy Sinclair said she would feel differently about the motion if it were coming from addiction or mental health experts.
“In speaking with an addictions expert over the past week, research shows that sending people with addictions out of the community actually results in more overdose deaths when they return to the community than people who heal within community,” Sinclair said.
“As has already been said, we can't force people into treatment. And people with addictions and mental health issues, and people who are homeless, are a part of our community. I take direction on mental health and addiction from the experts in the field.”
Some councillors took issue with the wording used in the motion, particularly the whereas clauses that precede the directives themselves.
Coun. Dale Bass said she disagreed with how the motion seemed to indicate people should be required to use treatment centres. Bass was the centre of some controversy last week when she compared the proposal to a "concentration camp" in an interview on Radio NL.
Coun. Sadie Hunter said she couldn't support the motion, saying the wording was inappropriate and dehumanizing.
"The motion itself is an example of this narrative, this toxic narrative and the narrative that I see on social media and the narrative that I hear in community. And the language throughout this is dehumanizing and generalizes a really complex issue," Hunter said.
"It, quite frankly, shows a blatant ignorance around mental illness and substance use. And I can't in good conscience support any of it. It perpetuates stigma, and it's not a constructive approach."
Byron McCorkell, the city’s director of community and protective services, said the city needs to continue to lobby for a sobering centre, a detox expansion for beds at the Phoenix, more housing for stabilized care, a mental health court and a drug court — facilities that have already been requested.
“As you’ve heard from [RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky] and others at the podium, currently the system is not putting people in jail for valid reasons, who are suffering from a myriad of issues, but there’s no catch on the other side for them so they come back to the street,” McCorkell said.
“They have to find their way through a very complex system and they are successful, and they are unsuccessful. And with the social agencies we work with are challenged daily with how do we try and keep people moving forward into success.”
Walsh’s motion was severed and voted on in sections.
The first part of his motion was defeated five votes to four, with Walsh, Sarai, O’Reilly and Coun. Arjun Singh voting in favour. Sinclair, Hunter, Bass, Coun. Dieter Dudy and Mayor Ken Christian were opposed.
The second part of his motion was defeated eight votes to one, with only Walsh voting in favour.