Band sets sights on halfway house

Tuesday open house will provide information on proposed Osoyoos facility for Aboriginal offenders

The Osoyoos Indian Band is proposing a halfway house for federal and provincial Aboriginal male offenders on parole.

Chief Clarence Louie, who helped announce OIB lands as the preferred location for a new provincial Okanagan correctional centre on Monday, said he hopes the proposed five-bedroom house would provide another way to help rehabilitate Aboriginal offenders.

“I would hope that our halfway house gets approval and we are actually being involved directly with the Aboriginal offenders. We would be one of the first First Nations to actively be involved in rehabilitation of our people that wind up in the federal system,” said Louie. “So I hope now that this (correctional centre) announcement has been made that it is a good fit.”

On Tuesday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. an open house will occur in Osoyoos to provide information and receive feedback on the proposed halfway house from the general public. The open house will occur at the proposed location of the halfway house at 7851 45 St., on a 10-acre orchard near Spirit Ridge resort.

A grant to help with the renovations of the proposed house has been issued to the OIB. The halfway house would provide a home-like environment, employment is a requirement for those living there, access to social and cultural activities within the OIB would be available, video security monitoring and regular Community Corrections contact would be in place.

The proposed halfway house would have an Aboriginal focus, be elder supported and an OIB screening committee would exist to recommended or turn away applicants who want to live in the house.

“I think that is one of the key points,” said Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells, who along with Osoyoos town council heard a presentation on the proposal last week from the OIB and Correction Service of Canada. “In this selection committee there will be professional people that know the business, but also a representative from the community at large and that was really important.”

Wells also said the halfway house would not accept applications from sex offenders.

While the house is located in the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, adjacent to OIB land, Wells said Osoyoos town council will not have a vote on it.

Mellisa Taylor, project manager of Aboriginal development for Correction Service Canada, said they will be meeting with the RDOS next week and have March 16 tentatively scheduled for first and second reading by the board.

“It is going ahead, as long as we get the permission from the RDOS for the spot rezoning application. That is really the major hurdle we are facing now,” said Taylor.

At least one full-time staff member will be required as a caregiver in the house, with a number of part-time positions to augment that, and they will also have an elder working with offenders in the house.

Taylor said a new position is also opening up in their Kelowna office as the Aboriginal community liaison officer, which may end up working out of Osoyoos. Jobs will also be created for renovations for the house and setting up and maintaining the security systems.

“This is certainly something that will be bringing jobs into Osoyoos. With these types of projects, certainly sometimes people have concerns, and fairly so. It is good to be informed and learn about it and then realize there is a lot of benefit that comes from these resources in the community too,” said Taylor.