After two hours listening to opponents and supporters, Penticton city council voted unanimously to give the nod to expansion plans by Discovery House.
“I feel like it was a gift for us tonight. It is something that we are able to actually make a difference here in some social problems,” said Coun. Helena Konanz.
Discovery House is a facility for men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, which has been running successfully in Penticton for the past decade, providing long-term, live-in housing and support programming. They currently have a five-bed facility on Wade Avenue, but are working to establish a new centre a few blocks away in an up and down duplex originally used as a care home and then a bed and breakfast.
The building, at 633 Winnipeg St., has a five bedroom suite on the bottom floor and a six bedroom suite on the upper floor that can be split into two smaller units. However, it required a zoning amendment to allow for congregate housing.
The need for care
Russel Shea shared his story of trying to help with his son’s addiction, and how he has changed in his first month in the recovery program.
“I fought with him for 20 years … to get off and get change,” said a very emotional Shea. “Finally he is in there changing, he has 30 days in there changing and I am so grateful for the house, what it has done for him.
“That is why we need this treatment centre expansion, because they are crowded into a little place right now. Just give them a chance, that’s all I have to say.”
Opposition to expansion
Other local residents attended the public hearing with concerns that opening a second location near the first might be bringing too many recovering addicts into one neighbourhood, and others expressed concerns that some of the men entering the Discovery House’s programs would be coming from corrections facilities or there would be too few staff to deal with the residents.
Yvette Luff lives near the Winnipeg Avenue house and said she isn’t opposed to recovery houses, but wanted city council to impose a limit of one per neighbourhood and limit bed capacity to six people for the benefit of the management and the neighbourhood.
“Remember, you are proposing putting them alongside families in low-density neighbourhoods,” said Luff, who also suggested having minimum distances between the recovery houses and schools, parks and children, along with considering liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, and pawn shops.
“We ask that you take this back to planning and do some research from the cities that already have multiple drug recovery homes,” said Luff, who was questioned by council about what negative effects she expected.
“We have a recovery house in the neighbourhood and it has no negative impact on me,” said Luff.
The new location, according to Discovery House executive director Jerome Abraham, is an extension of what is going on at the current facility, and both will work together, another factor in making the new building desirable as is the residential setting, as they work to bring recovering addicts back to mainstream society.
“The key word to a recovery house is recovery. If you replaced drug and alcohol with cancer, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” said Coun. Campbell Watt.
A solid record
Prior to the public hearing, Abraham said his group was hoping to rely on Discovery House’s record and the support of their current neighbours.
Ken Kunka, building and permitting manager for the city, said that over the last two years, there had only been two complaints about Discovery House, both related to parking and dealt with quickly.
Community and neighbourhood support was also strong. Ellen Kildaw said council members should attend one of the suppers put on by Discovery House.
“Hear the stories of the people and then you will understand what this is all about,” said Kildaw. “You need to do that because this is an incredible place and it deserves to be in this community.”
Mike Wicentowich, house manager at Discovery House, said the discussion shouldn’t be about problems and solutions in larger communities, like Surrey or Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
“We are talking about Penticton, the people who live here. We need to bring fathers back to their kids. It’s what we do at Discovery House, we are bringing people back to become productive members of society,” said Wicentowich. “We’re not asking for 22 beds as it was in Surrey. We want 11 beds, twice as much as what we have now. There is going to be more than one staff member on to take care of 11 people.”
Coun. Campbell Watt proposed supporting the zoning amendment, with the addition that the change be specific to the site and operation.
Ways to help
Discovery House is also looking for some tangible support in the form of furnishings and everything needed to stock the house from the kitchen to the bedrooms. Abraham said they are running a fundraising campaign to offset start-up costs and upgrades needed at the new location.
Donations can be made online through www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/save-a-life-we-need-more-supportive-recovery-beds-/ or visit their website, jthomasttc.wordpress.com, for more information.
Discovery House also has a Fall Harvest Dinner, silent auction and baking raffle planned for Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. To purchase tickets, call 250-462-1388 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.