Rutland neighbourhood group to file provincial complaint over low-barrier housing

Complaint claims low-barrier housing has had a negative impact on their neighbourhood

Members of the Rutland Residents Association intend to submit a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsperson about the negative impacts that low-barrier supportive housing is having on their neighbourhood.

The complaint, approved by the association on Nov. 18, is part of a larger concern shared by residents in the neighbourhood about the alleged ongoing drug use and crime they’re seeing from people currently living in low-barrier housing, such as the Heath House.

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During the meeting, association members said they had already sent a letter to at least one city official asking for help to fix the drug and crime problem — but to no avail.

The letter asked the city to increase lighting on local streets, improve sightlines in Rutland by pruning hedges and install security cameras.

In September, the association also sent a letter to the minister of municipal affairs and housing, as well as the minister of mental health and addictions, to share their concerns about low-barrier housing in Rutland. The letter was also sent to local MLAs.

Rutland Residents Association president Peter Pagliocchini said they are particularly concerned about the number of needles and other drug paraphernalia residents are finding in the Mills Road and Sylvania Street area, where Heath House is located.

“That area needs to be cleaned up as best we can. That includes stepping up policing and creating ongoing surveillance,” said Pagliocchini.

“When police come to the area, they (drug users) go away. And when the police go away they comeback.”

Mike Gawliuk, director of service delivery and program innovation with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which operates several low-barrier housing properties in the city, said his organization is committed to ensuring low-barrier housing doesn’t have a negative impact on the Rutland community.

“When it comes to supportive housing, it’s necessary to work with neighbourhoods to ensure that any outstanding issues are addressed. We are committed to being a responsible and accountable landlord,” said Gawliuk.

“Any concerns people have are things that we want to sit down and discuss face-to-face with them.”

While he acknowledged the association’s concerns, he said low-barrier housing, such as the Heath House, is an essential way to help those who are less fortunate in the community.

“Benefits that we see from supportive housing have to do with individuals achieving improvements in their health, improvements to their connection to necessary services like counselling and a better connection to their family,” said Gawliuk.

“Supportive housing is an opportunity for individuals to get a roof overhead, let them end homelessness and allows them to take next steps in their life to move forward.”

In an effort to mitigate some of the issues, Rutland resident Christopher Bocskei said he has undertaken a project that investigates how other communities in the province deal with local drug and crime issues associated with low-barrier housing.

“We’re looking at what issues some of these facilities have been experiencing, including those in Nanaimo, Maple Ridge, Grand Forks and Victoria,” said Bocskei.

“By talking with different Facebook groups in these communities about the issues going on from these facilities — including fire alarms consistently going off in the buildings from people cooking crack in their rooms, to drug dealers moving to areas around these facilities and bringing in more crime — we’re looking at what Rutland can do to hopefully mitigate these impacts.”

The Office of the Ombudsperson is an independent statutory office of the provincial legislature that impartially investigates individual complaints about unfair administrative actions taken by local and provincial authorities.

In addition to resolving individual problems, the investigation of a complaint can lead to systemic improvements.

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