There appears to be more to the story regarding a Logan Lake treatment centre transporting clients to a shelter in Kamloops, as was noted last week by city staff.
VisionQuest Recovery Society executive director Megan Worley said such transportation occurs infrequently as a “last resort.” Meanwhile, the shelter operator who flagged the issue to the city said the actions are inappropriate, regardless of how many people are dropped off, due to a lack of local shelter space and housing.
Worley told KTW VisionQuest has transported discharged clients from its facility in Logan Lake to shelters on West Victoria Street on two occasions in the past four months.
For context, last year, VisionQuest had 300 people come in and out of its facility. Worley explained the discharge process depends on the reason and needs and desires of the client. If someone chooses to leave and staff cannot convince them otherwise, they are taken to a nearby shelter.
“The reason that we do that is because we’re 40 minutes in the middle of nowhere. It’s a long walk for them. We don’t want them to freeze to death and we’re actually required by the assistant living registry to ensure that our clients, when they leave, go to a safe place whenever they can,” Worley told KTW.
“We obviously can’t stop them from walking and sometimes they do. But, we are required to take them somewhere, so we take them to a 24-hour shelter where they have access to services. That’s pretty much it. It is a last resort, but it’s the only choice we have at that point.”
Canadian Mental Health Association executive director Alfred Achoba, however, said dropping individuals coming out of recovery off at a shelter is inappropriate, no matter the number or frequency.
The CMHA operates the Emerald Centre shelter on West Victoria Street. Achoba wants VisionQuest to change its mandate to ensure housing is secured after discharge and does not include shelters.
“When we look at recovery, people need to have a clean place to go to after they’re done treatment,” Achoba said.
“The shelter, given that it’s low barrier, it’s not really ideal for someone to go to treatment and then get discharged into a shelter. We want them to move into housing. I think that’s the gap here is VisionQuest is not really fulfilling their obligation when it comes to ensuring people have housing after recovery and after treatment.
“They need to look at how they can change their mandate to ensure that if an individual is coming to treatment, they already have housing secure or they work with that individual to make sure they have a safe place to go to after they are discharged — and that doesn’t include shelter.
Achoba said the Emerald Centre has a wait list for housing, adding “it doesn’t sit well to me” knowing a person from outside Kamloops is occupying space that should be set aside for a Kamloops resident who has been waiting to get into housing.
The city’s social and community development supervisor, Ty Helgason, clarified the transportation method used by VisionQuest is not a bus, but is, in fact, a red minivan. He said the city regularly hears claims about actions surrounding service providers and looks into them, most often coming back unfounded.
In this situation, Helgason said, security patrolling West Victoria Street spotted the van dropping people off in the area. The city subsequently spoke with the CMHA and the CMHA flagged the issue in late September or early October.
“I don’t think CMHA really knew anything about it,” Helgason said. “They were just receiving these mystery clients and not really sure where they were coming from. Then, we got a description of the vehicle and we had everyone looking out for it trying to figure out what was going on. We found out that it was VisionQuest then, dropping people off.”
Asked how often the van was coming and how many people it included, Achoba said it was random and not often. People were dropped off nearby, either by the Mustard Seed Kamloops or at the city’s mini-storage facility for homeless, both on West Victoria Street.
He took umbrage with numbers provided by Worley to KTW, noting he saw the minivan a few times in one week.
“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” Achoba said of VisionQuest’s report that there have been two drop-offs in the past four months. “The reason I say that is we’ve seen it multiple times. Personally, I’ve seen it multiple times, just with our camera. It’s possible they are dropping people off who have indicated they have a place to go, but those individuals might not and then they show up at the shelter.”
Helgason added VisionQuest also brings people to Kamloops in certain circumstances, such as late on a Friday when there is a desire to not drive longer distances.
Achoba said part of the CMHA’s mandate to accept individuals into the shelter is the person has to have a previous living arrangement or a housing placement. If not, the agency can’t take the individual.
Helgason said the city recently sent a delegation, including members of city administration, two councillors and Kamloops RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky, to visit VisionQuest.
Helgason said the group sat down with the organization’s management and the city asked its clientele to only be brought to Kamloops when absolutely necessary and that the organization communicates with the local shelter when it does happen.
VisionQuest also recently appeared before city council as a delegation, at which time councillors asked the organization about its discharge process and the organization said it needed for more funding.
Worley said the organization receives negative press, given stigma around the clientele with which it works.
Helgason said the organization does great work.
“That’s one piece out of the context that’s been missed in a lot of the coverage — is that we certainly appreciate the work that they do and we know how important that part of the system is, giving people a place to go through their recovery is very important.”