Riverview: The long journey of a vision
In 2014, the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group (TCHHTG) was invited by the provincial BC Housing agency to be an advisory group to their Riverview Lands Visioning project and to represent the housing and social sectors. In response, the Task Group published “Renewing Riverview: Statement of Need” and a Companion Document with supporting data. Rather than making a specific proposal for the future use of the Riverview Lands, the Task Group identified unmet needs in the Tri-Cities based on its advocacy over the past 8 years; needs which could potentially be met on the Riverview Lands.
The needs identified revolved around two broad areas: mental health and addictions facilities and services, and affordable housing. The reports envisioned a mental health and 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 people with a mental illness leaving care or persons recovering from addiction who needed a bridge to the community in a safe and supportive environment.
The Task Group’s submissions were recognized and applauded. Yet no action was taken and we fast forward two years:
“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 neighborhood complete with a diverse range of housing choices, shops, services and opportunities for employment.”
This is the vision presented by the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group in an opinion article in a March 2016 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.”
The provincial government, through BC Housing, continued to be encouraged to create a vibrant, inclusive neighborhood for persons suffering from mental illness or addiction; however, this will require more than just 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 the issues of affordability and overcrowding, Coquitlam ranks as one of the worst performers in the province for the overall health of its rental housing. Over one-third 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.
A normalized living environment is an important component of recovery and healing for persons dealing with a mental health issue or recovering from addiction. 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.
The Task Group continued to advocate for a Riverview community that would include 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 could provide 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 would be fundamental to creating a viable and complete community.
We are encouraged by recent steps that BC Housing has taken in regards to continued engagement and consultation with local stakeholders. And we are optimistic that this Vision will one day be a reality.