Stephanie Ryan: Surrey council shouldn't ignore concerns about Welcome Home recovery home
Many people in Surrey are wondering what it is about the proposed Welcome Home facility that city council wants so badly that it would ignore its own planning and development department’s recommendations.
The controversy will come to a head on Monday (October 5), when the proposal goes to a public hearing.
Welcome Home is being billed as a therapeutic community that will aim to equip recovering drug and alcohol addicts, as well as court-ordered offenders, with the life and job skills they need.
The proposal is being put forward by John Volken, former CEO of United Furniture Warehouse.
The Welcome Home complex seeks to provide room and board for up to 192 residents in exchange for all of their income, including welfare cheques. In return, residents will be provided with job-skills training and will work in the various retail warehouses that have been built on the property.
While the self-help model is certainly non-conventional, the hope is that the residents will overcome their addictions through abstinence, role modelling, and peer pressure.
We may all agree that there needs to be more opportunities to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders and other recovering addicts into society. But the context on this one is all wrong.
The city intends to ignore its own policy that says that recovery homes should not be sited within 600 metres of joint school/park sites, child-care facilities, or other recovery homes, if there are any complaints from the public and if they are likely to generate negative impacts.
Welcome Home, essentially an over-sized recovery home, will be built within 600 metres of two elementary schools, W.E. Kinvig and Henry Bose, in the heart of the Newton neighbourhood.
The King George Highway corridor in Newton already has a history of prostitution, and is prime territory for dial-a-dopers.
And residents and businesses alike feel the area is already doing its fair share to accommodate those in recovery programs with the area’s methadone-dispensing pharmacies, homeless shelter, and recovery homes, as well as an adult probation office and the Easy Does It Club for recovering alcoholics.
Public opposition to Welcome Home is strong, with almost 900 people signing a petition to oppose the development. Most are worried about the negative impacts such a sizable facility could bring to their already-overburdened neighbourhood, where families are raising young children.
Residents and small businesses do feel the impact. They are unhappy with the high rate of crime in the area, whether it’s having the dumpster in their back lot set on fire, the break-ins to homes and businesses, or threats to their children by local drug dealers.
Many are concerned that a low-security facility housing up to 200 ex-offenders (with an expected drop-out rate of 50 percent within the first 30 days) will simply attract more unsavoury activity.
Their concerns aren’t unfounded. In fact, previous research done in Vancouver suggests that the size of a recovery home ought to be limited to 12 occupants in order to minimize negative impacts to a neighbourhood.
In Vancouver, Volken had previously sought to develop a similar therapeutic community. There, that project did not proceed because of concerns about the size and scale of the project, as well as its financial viability and some unanswered questions about the staff-to-client ratio. The City of Vancouver followed the recommendations of its planning department and a report that noted that smaller facilities are more likely to be successful.
In Surrey’s case, in the report written by the planning and development department for the Welcome Home project, most parties express general support in principle for a long-term facility that provides supported housing to those who are recovering from addiction.
But both the crime prevention office and the RCMP agree that there could be some issues that arise with Welcome Home simply because of its sheer magnitude.
Surrey’s planning and development department recommended that city council refer the application back to staff so that the proposal could be modified in three respects.
The planners say that the scale and number of occupants in the proposed facility should be reduced, that provincial licensing or accreditation with a body like the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities should be obtained, and that the clientele and selection process for occupants should be confirmed.
Despite the planning department’s recommendations, city council voted to take the development application to the next step. They ignored the opportunity to take a step back, to make some fairly common-sense modifications to the proposal that would likely have made the project more amenable to the community.
It’s not the first time Surrey city council has ignored the recommendation of the planning department. Newton residents and businesses owners say the project has been treated as a done deal from the beginning.
It looks like Monday’s vote will pass, with Surrey Civic Coalition councillor Bob Bose in opposition.
Stephanie Ryan is the president of the Surrey Civic Coalition.