Officials with Freedom’s Door, the local organization that helps men recover from alcohol and drug addiction, has a different sort of healing to tackle now that it has won approval for a 49-unit supportive housing development in Rutland.
Given the opposition in the neighbourhood expressed at a public hearing this week, the organization knows it will have to reach out to area residents to try and allay their fears, said Freedom’s Door’s Tom Smithwick.
“There’s no question,” he said. “Maybe another community meeting would be helpful, maybe we’ll host a community barbecue. I’m not sure.”
Leading up to the packed public hearing Tuesday evening that resulted in Kelowna city council agreeing to rezone the site at the corner of McCurdy and Rutland Roads for the new building, the city received a massive amount of letters, phone calls and emails, as well as a 700-name petition, from opponents.
Close to 300 people jammed into council chambers—with many spilling out into the lobby—to both support and oppose the plan.
Many of the opponents said the residential area, close to schools and without any major amenities in the immediate area, was not the place to locate a building for recovered addicts.
But Smithwick said the building would be for men who have already wrestled their addictions into submission and are determined to stay clean and sober.
Freedom House, as the project is known, is the last level of housing for men who have gone through the Freedom’s Door program. It is not a rehab facility.
Smithwick pointed to another area of the city, Centennial Crescent in the Capri area, where Freedom’s Door owns four houses that provide living accommodation for a total of 40 men going through the organization’s program. It also owns another house on nearby Belaire Avenue housing 10 men.
By all accounts—including from city Coun. Charlie Hodge who lives on Centennial Crescent—there are no problems in those areas associated with the Freedom’s Door houses.
Hodge, who was one of three councillors who voted against the Rutland project based on its size—not the residents who would live there—praised the Freedom’s Door program and the work the organization does in the community.
While many who opposed the planned Rutland development characterized the men who would live there as undesirable, many others acknowledged the need for such supportive housing in the city, just not at the Rutland location.
Smithwick said in addition to strict rules about the running of Freedom House—it will be a “dry” facility, will have its doors locked at 10 p.m. and will have round-the-clock supervision—the men who will live there will also be the most stringent in making sure the rules are followed.
“They know that one person could mess it up for everyone,” he said.
Still, given the amount of concern expressed at the public hearing, Smithwick said Freedom’s Door will continue reaching out to its new neighbours in a bid to reassure them.
He said one of the first groups he plans to talk to are officials with the nearby Sikh Temple.
A representative of the temple told council Tuesday it opposes the location of Freedom House, particularly because it will house men recovering from addiction.
In response, Smithwick said he was surprised, given the opposition the temple faced back when plans for its construction were presented to council.
He said despite that opposition, the temple was approved, built, and since has become a treasured, welcome and important part of the Rutland community.
Other speakers at the public hearing talked about their concern the residential nature of the area could be adversely affected by allowing Freedom House to be built there. And some, in a shocking show of intolerance, targeted the future residents, accusing them of bringing crime, alcohol and drug use to the area that could affect their children.
Mayor Colin Basran, who was born and raised in the Rutland area, acknowledged his support of Freedom House for the rezoning may cost him votes and even friends. But he said he refused to stereotype people, particularly addicts, and said they are members of the community who deserve our help and support, not condemnation.
Several times during the public hearing, references were made to the war of words that surrounded another controversial supportive housing proposal, the Cardington Apartments on St. Paul Street downtown 10 years ago.
That public battle pitted many in the city against each other, including several influential business and property owners who railed against locating the John Howard Society-run facility on St. Paul Street.
They said it would bring down property values in the area, bring in people they did not want to see there and have an adverse effect on the downtown area.
But 10 years later some of the most vocal opponents now say they were wrong.
Local businessman Grant Maddock spoke at the public hearing and urged council to support the Freedom House proposal.
He said it turned out that his fears about the Cardington Apartment’s were unfounded, the facility did not adversely affect the street, and he has even joined the board of the John Howard Society in the years since.
It’s support like that Freedom’s Door hopes to rely on as it tries and ease concerns of Rutland residents as it moves forward with the Freedom House project.
The four-storey, mixed use building, will have the residential apartments on floors two through four and two street-level commercial units, as well as offices, meeting rooms and a hall for the Knights of Columbus, the group selling Freedom’s Door the property and who has an aging building on the site now.
Smithwick said $3 million of the $9 project budget still needs to be raised and that will be done over the course of the next year. Then it will take about 18 months to build Freedom House.
“So we should see it up and operating by the spring of 2020,” he said.
In the meantime, he said the organization will continue to help men deal with their alcohol and drug issues as it has done for between 1,300 and 1,400 men since 2002.
“If no one deals with addiction, then we really do have something to fear,” he said.