Residents say loss of B.C. home for folks with mental illness will be 'step back' in their progress
Lina's Place in New Westminster to be sold and funding re-invested, according to B.C. Housing
This story is part of Situation Critical, a series from CBC British Columbia reporting on the barriers people in this province face in accessing timely and appropriate health care.
Residents of an assisted living facility for people with mental illnesses in B.C. are pleading for answers about why their home is being shut down and sold off by the province, with no set plan for their futures.
Lina's Place in New Westminster, about 25 kilometres southeast of Vancouver, is currently home to 11 people who cook meals together, watch sports together, volunteer together and think of each other as family.
But in early July, they were called to a meeting where they were told the facility would be closing in a year because of the need for expensive but unspecified repairs to the 21-year-old duplex.
The residents have been told that a transition plan will be developed for each of them, but those who spoke with CBC worry they'll be split up and forced to leave the community they call home.
"These are my friends, these are my family," 59-year-old resident Jeff MacPherson said. "We care about each other."
Lina's Place is operated by Pioneer Community Living Association under contract with Fraser Health, in a home owned by B.C. Housing.
New Westminster Coun. Jaimie McEvoy says he's reached out to all three bodies to ask for more specifics about the repairs, which he understands are related to the building envelope, but so far, he's come up short.
He pointed out that if this situation involved a rental building, the landlord would have to provide proof of the repairs before evicting all the tenants.
"Buildings get repaired all the time. Buildings have issues all the time. It would really be nice if Fraser Health and B.C. Housing came forward with some better information," he said.
"I think it's difficult and unfair for the tenants and the families when they can't assess the situation for themselves."
MacPherson says living at Lina's Place has helped him build confidence and provided stability after a turbulent couple of decades that saw him living on the streets of Edmonton for a short time.
"If I went back to where I used to be … it'd be a step back in my progress," MacPherson said, referring to the transitional housing he lived in before.
He's not alone in those fears.
WATCH | Residents talk about losing Lina's Place:
Alison Chow, 34, is a music student at nearby Douglas College, and she's concerned she'll be moved somewhere far away from her classes and her Lina's Place family.
"Everyone in the house has a good disposition, everyone's very kind, no one gets angry. … Everybody at Lina's has a really good heart," she said.
MacPherson's best friend, 61-year-old Tim Williams, says he worries he'll have to move in with his brother on Vancouver Island, a long distance from the only friends he's ever had.
"I'd like to tell B.C. Housing, what the hell — sorry, what the heck — are they doing to us? Why are they doing this?" Williams said.
'What is the real problem?'
Official notice came in a July 6 letter to residents from Iain Nicol, manager for mental health and substance use at Fraser Health, who said the decision is "based on the need for a newer building and for funding for more choices in housing programs."
Family members say further information has been hard to come by.
"They're telling us that there is an engineering report done that said the building can't be saved, it's got to be sold," MacPherson's brother Craig said.
"Though we did ask at the meeting, how much money is required to repair? To what extent? What is the real problem? None of the four representatives there had an answer."
Despite being given three days' notice, representatives of B.C. Housing, Fraser Health and Pioneer Community Living Association did not respond to requests for comment from CBC.
The residents have asked to see the engineer's report, but B.C. Housing has said they'll have to file a Freedom of Information request to get those details.
Their families question the timing of the announcement, which came just after the publication of an independent report identifying several problems at B.C. Housing, including oversight of spending, and right before the majority of the agency's board was fired.
Brad MacPherson, another of Jeff's brothers, said he can't help but wonder if the sale of Lina's Place is "an opportunity to grab some quick cash to paper over some bureaucratic inefficiencies and deficiencies."
The property has more than quadrupled in value since it was purchased in 2002, according to B.C. Assessment records, and taken together, the two sides of the duplex have been assessed at about $2.6 million.
Then-B.C. Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay gave more details about how the money would be used in an email to a family member on Sept. 1.
"Fraser Health has committed to re-invest program funding (in partnership with B.C. Housing) into the Fraser North area for the development of a new bed-based program to help meet the needs of the expected population growth in this area of the region," Ramsay wrote.
That means the funding could be redirected to programs in Burnaby, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody or even as far away as Maple Ridge.
The residents and their families say they've heard nothing yet about where they might end up.
"It's boiled down to being totally financial and very insensitive to the mental condition of the residents at Lina's, who are all quite happy there," Craig MacPherson said.
"What's a life worth?"
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With files from Belle Puri