Riverview plan a ‘slap in the face’

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Coquitlam politicians vow to fight big proposal for hospital site

John Bermingham

A provincial government plan would transform the former psychiatric hospital site into a mixed-housing complex. Photograph by : Arlen Redekop, The Province

Coquitlam civic politicians have vowed to battle the B.C. government over its plan for 7,000 new homes on the former Riverview psychiatric hospital site.

Coun. Mae Reid, who heads Coquitlam’s Riverview Task Force, called the plan — floated Friday to the media, catching many politicians and officials by surprise — “pompous, arrogant greed” and vowed to oppose it.

“Everybody is absolutely appalled at the arrogance of the government,” Reid said Friday.

“It’s a slap in the face. The people of [Coquitlam] believe the Riverview lands are a place of healing.

“I am vehemently opposed to market housing.”

On Friday, B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman announced plans for a 7,000-unit development on the 98-hectare Riverview site. It would include condos and single-family houses, social and supportive housing and beds for those still in need of mental-health care.

The project would use revenues from privately-built housing to pay for the 1,100 social and supportive-housing units.

Coquitlam Mayor Maxine Wilson is meeting Coleman this week to discuss the issue.

“I think our residents are going to be quite alarmed,” she said. “We’ll be making our viewpoints clearly to the minister.”

Coquitlam’s task force concluded the site should become a healing centre focusing on medical-research facilities. It also wanted the site’s arboretum and gardens, which host species collected from around the world, protected.

What it didn’t want was market residential development.

“There was a high priority for supplying social housing for people with mental-health issues,” said Wilson. “We could never accept housing on Riverview other than for mental-health needs. That is the wish of our residents.”

Coleman told The Province Friday that he’s been working with Health Minister George Abbott and Labour Minister Olga Ilich on plans for Riverview but that none are “hard and fast” yet.

Work on the site would not begin until after the Olympics, Coleman said, and public consultation would be done first.

As for critics, he said that “any time there’s change, you will often get some opposition.”

NDP housing critic Diane Thorne, who served for nine years on Coquitlam council, said a public-private partnership — the format suggested for future assisted housing on the site — is not the solution to mental-health housing shortages.

“People are stunned,” Thorne said. “It’s not OK to ride roughshod over communities. The people will not want it, I can guarantee.”

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan said he welcomed the new social and supportive-housing component of the plan. In Vancouver, about 500 of the city’s 1,200 homeless suffer some form of mental illness.

“I have often described the Downtown Eastside as an open-air asylum. I’m very frank about that,” said Sullivan. “They are living in appalling conditions.”

Sullivan said he is not involved in the Riverview proposal, but called it a positive step.

“The City of Vancouver desperately wants a caring and supportive environment [for these people],” he told The Province.

Wendy Pedersen, an activist with the Carnegie Community Action Project in Vancouver‘s Downtown Eastside, said many residents would be willing to move to Riverview.

There are currently 300 patients at the facility. The beds are being moved to the province’s health authorities so patients can be closer to home.

Bev Gutray, head of the Canadian Mental Health Association in B.C., said 7,000 mentally ill people need supportive housing in B.C.

“Having homes for people is what’s needed,” said Gutray. “It looks like there’s some creative, ambitious ideas being floated. Obviously, the land is worth a lot of money.”

© The Vancouver Province 2007


Comments are closed.