Addictions recovery centre pitched for former youth jail near Victoria

An outreach society in Victoria is making a pitch to the province to turn a former youth jail into an addictions recovery centre for the region.

Addiction treatment program would offer housing for people trying to kick drugs

The temporary shelter, called Choices, allows residents to use alcohol and narcotics in their personal rooms. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

An outreach society in Victoria is making a pitch to the province to turn a former youth jail into an addictions recovery centre for the region.

The proposed facility would offer housing and recovery programs of 12 to 24 months in length for up to 50 people at a time, said Don Evans, the executive director for the Our Place Society.

"The target population is the people who are cycling through the jails and the street, and people who are suffering from severe addiction," Evans said.

"There's just not a lot of options for treatment on the island, especially government funded."

The former youth detention centre in View Royal, which is owned by B.C. Housing, was transformed into a homeless shelter last year to house people from a tent city that formed in Victoria.

Few renovations required

The shelter at the former youth detention centre was only a temporary measure and is set to close in December.

Because the former custody centre was renovated to make room for the people from the tent city, few upgrades would be required to turn it into a recovery centre, Evans said.

The facility already has a gym, art and music rooms, classroom spaces, and a sunny courtyard area for a garden.

"It has everything we need there."

Right now, the shelter allows residents to use alcohol and narcotics in their personal rooms in order to be as inclusive as possible for people who are struggling with homelessness.

Residents personalized the space inside the former youth custody centre by painting the doors and hallways with warm colours. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

'Therapeutic recovery community'

The permanent "therapeutic recovery community" Evans envisions would not permit residents to use these substances. It would only allow opioid substitution therapies such as methadone or suboxone when people are in the early stages of recovery.

"This will be an abstinent-based program," he said. "When people leave, they will be clean of all drugs."

The hope is the community environment, which includes participants at various stages of recovery serving as mentors and leaders, will also provide skills to help people land employment before they leave the program, he added.

The concept is a better fit for the residential area, which is about seven kilometres from downtown Victoria, said David Screech, the mayor of View Royal.

"I think the community will be far more supportive of a recovery facility in that spot than the type of facility that is being run now," Screech said.

"There is also a general awareness that Greater Victoria definitely needs a facility like one that is being proposed."

Community consultations will also be held if a rezoning application is put forward, he added.

A lack of consultation prior to the opening of the shelter angered some who live nearby.

The facility already has a gym, music and art rooms, classroom space, and room for a garden. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Provincial funding required

Before any consultation happens, Our Place needs to secure $4.7 million in funding from the province to cover most of the operating expenses for the program for the first seven years, Evans said.

After that, the facility would operate through donations to the Our Place Society.

Evans said he has not yet met with Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy, but has requested a meeting to make the pitch.

Partnerships would also be required with other agencies including Island Health and B.C. Corrections.

The program would be modelled after a well-known therapeutic recovery community in Italy called San Patrignano, and there are also similar existing models in B.C. in Prince George and Nanaimo, Evans said.

In 2014, the provincial government shuttered the custody centre, transferring the youth there to a facility in Burnaby as a cost-saving measure.

The building was largely empty until the homeless shelter opened in March of 2016.