Vancouver city council has referred a policy statement on the proposed redevelopment of the Pearson Dogwood lands for further discussion after the plan drew criticism from people with disabilities.
More than 20 people addressed council throughout the day Wednesday (January 22), with many pleading the city not to approve the statement.
Jill Weiss, the chair of Vancouver’s persons with disabilities advisory committee, was among those who spoke against the policy out of concern for a proposal to incorporate 37 beds for people with disabilities into a redeveloped residential-care facility on the site.
“This proposal that confines people with disabilities to an institution and takes away people’s rights and freedoms will make Vancouver the only city in the world building a new institution for people with disabilities,” she told council.
“An institution basically is a place where the help that people with disabilities need is organized in such a way that deprives us of liberty, freedom, autonomy and choice,” she added. “This is not about health care. This is about human rights, and the deprivation of liberty.”
Weiss said she feels like council heard the concerns raised by the speakers.
“We’re quite hopeful that council deferred it to staff,” she told the Straight by phone today (January 23). “I think council wisely thought ‘let’s take a better look at this, let’s take some time to come up with what’s really the right thing’, and I really appreciate that.”
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs said the referral to a future meeting will allow city staff to consult with Vancouver Coastal Health and the province to address the concerns that have been raised.
“We’ve asked staff to go back and sit down with Coastal Health to see if we can really clarify what their intentions are and re-think the proposal to a level that will get broader acceptance in the disabilities community,” he said in a phone interview.
“These are really, really difficult and important issues, and one of the suggestions in the policy statement that attracted some attention was the idea that Coastal Health have a blue-ribbon panel of experts and advocates who can confirm as the project goes on that it’s achieving best practice in terms of the housing options for people with disabilities, and that it also is reflecting the values in the UN Declaration of Rights for People with Disabilities.”
The 25-acre Pearson Dogwood site between 57th and 59th avenues and Cambie and Heather streets is home to the George Pearson Centre, which was built in 1952 as a sanatorium for people with tuberculosis and currently consists of 120 residential-care beds for people with disabilities. The land is also home to the Dogwood Lodge, a residential-care facility that houses 113 seniors.
The policy statement that went before council proposed that the Pearson Centre be replaced with 83 independent living units for people with disabilities, and 37 residential-care beds. A new facility is planned to replace the Dogwood Lodge, containing a total of 150 residential-care beds.
Brad Foster, a real-estate consultant to VCH on the redevelopment project, noted the main concern appears to be the 37 beds for people with disabilities proposed for the complex-care facility. He pointed out that these units were requested by current Pearson residents.
“I think what we’ll probably do is take those 37 units right out of there, because that seems to be the big contentious issue, and we’ll turn those 37 units into supportive housing,” he told the Straight by phone.
“That said…once we have units available and people really begin to move out of Pearson, if people request to have a more residential-care environment, then VCH will work with those people on an individualized basis and see where they could go either on the site or in VCH’s residential-care stock in Vancouver,” Foster added.
Others that spoke out against the policy statement Wednesday included paralympian Paul Gauthier.
“I live in fear everyday, because I don’t know if my supports will be taken away and I will end up in an institution that Vancouver may be building,” he told council.
“I urge you today to not pass this policy statement and to think about the fact that one day, you could be someone with a disability. It could happen to you tomorrow, and you just need to ask yourself: do you want to be forced to live in an institution where your family will not be able to stay and live with you? I have a three-and-a-half-year-old boy. Do you think that boy will be able to live in that institution with me? Absolutely not.”
Chris Morrissey, the chair of the city’s seniors advisory committee, told council there has been very little focus on either the redeveloped Dogwood Lodge, or on the needs of seniors.
“We are seriously concerned about the absence of reference to housing for seniors, with the exception of those already at Dogwood who will continue to live on the site,” she told council.
“We strongly urge that the City of Vancouver require the number of units of social housing in the Pearson Dogwood redevelopment be increased in consultation with the seniors advisory committee so that older adults have access to more affordable housing as defined by CMHC.”
The development proposed for the Pearson Dogwood lands, which is intended to leverage funds for health care, also includes plans for housing, a new Canada Line station, and a community health centre.