“Imagine a new community in southeast Coquitlam. A community where persons suffering from mental illness or addiction receive care and support while living in a vibrant compact neighbourhood complete with a diverse range of housing choices, shops, services and opportunities for employment.” This is the vision presented by the Tri-Cities Homelessness & Housing Task Group in an opinion article in the 18 March ’16 edition of the Tri-City News, prepared by Sandy Burpee, Task Group co-chair. The article continues:
“An inclusive community where these persons are integrated into the life of the community, rather than isolated from it. A community where health facilities, housing, shops and businesses, parks, walkways and streets are woven into a safe, healing and welcoming environment. To create this community is the opportunity presented by the redevelopment of the Riverview Lands.
In 2014, the Tri-Cities Homelessness & Housing Task Group submitted a “Statement of Need” to the Riverview Lands visioning project. The core feature is a mental health & addictions wellness complex, incorporating psychiatric and concurrent disorders treatment, tertiary care beds and a substance abuse centre. These services would be augmented by transitional supportive housing for persons with a mental illness leaving care or persons recovering from addiction who need a bridge to the community in a safe and supportive environment.
To create a vibrant, inclusive neighbourhood for persons suffering from mental illness or addiction, however, will require more than transitional supportive housing. The land available on the Riverview site creates the opportunity to close a gap – adequate, stable housing for vulnerable households in the Tri-Cities that are currently struggling to pay their rent. Taking into account affordability and overcrowding, Coquitlam ranks as one of the worst performers in the province for the overall health of its rental housing. Almost one-half of the female-lead single parent households in Coquitlam are spending more than 50% of their income on rent, and are deemed to be at risk of homelessness. Youth also struggle to find housing that is affordable.
A normalized living environment is an important component of recovery and healing. A healthy community houses a mix of incomes, tenure and diversity, and housing on the Riverview Lands should include market rental as well as affordable rental housing. In addition to enhancing diversity, market rental housing would help offset affordable rental rates.
A Riverview community would not be complete without on-site employment including vocational rehabilitation for those living with mental health or addiction challenges or other employment barriers. Social enterprises, small businesses and shops could not only provide therapeutic engagement and employment skills for persons in tertiary care or supportive housing, but also a range of services for the blended Riverview community. Complementary commercial services on site such as medical, physiotherapy and private addiction/rehabilitation treatment facilities would be a source of revenue to offset site maintenance costs.
The natural features of the Riverview Lands provide the opportunity to connect the health facilities, housing, shops and businesses with walkways, trails and streets to create a tranquil and therapeutic setting. And, of course, frequent transit service to connect the community with the rest of the Tri-Cities will be fundamental to creating a viable community.
According to BC Housing’s “A Vision for Renewing Riverview”, strong advocacy for a complete community on the Riverview Lands has come from mental health professionals. Best practice in caring for those with mental illness is to accommodate them within neighbourhoods that include a diverse mix of other residents and housing choices. A complete community on the Riverview Lands with a mental health & addictions wellness complex at its core can provide leading-edge treatment and healing for persons suffering from mental illness or addiction while creating a home for people of all ages and income levels.”