Public open house presents plans for new city facility to house mentally ill homeless

Taylor Manor is slated for a major redevelopment to house 56 mentally ill people in long term supportive housing with 24-7 staff support. Photo by Beth Hong for the Vancouver Observer. Copyright 2012.

Two weeks after the City's public  announcement of an anonymous $30 million endowment to long-term housing for mentally ill homeless people, a public open house on Thursday night offered a first look at the designated facility. It will be located at Taylor Manor on 951 Boundary Road, Vancouver near Adanac Park. The Kettle Friendship Society, a Vancouver-based charitable organization, is tasked with operating the facility.

The multi-year, multi-million dollar project will redevelop the City-owned heritage building to include 56 studio apartments. The facility will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other donors to the project include Streetohome, Vancity, and the Carraresi Foundation.

Some at the meeting were relieved to learn that Taylor Manor would not be a repeat of the Steeves Manor debacle, in which mentally ill homeless people were ushered into a housing facility without adequate staff supervision.

Daphne Lang, a retired psychiatric nurse who has worked for 40 years in various organizations in Metro Vancouver, including the now-defunct Riverview mental health hospital, said she was apprehensive at first about the impact of the new facility on the neighbourhood.

Daphne Lang stands in front of the Adanac Park field behind Taylor Manor. Photo by Beth Hong for the Vancouver Observer. Copyright 2012.

"I was concerned that there would be needles all over the park and binners going through all over the [Adanac] Co-op," she said. Lang is a resident of the Adanac Housing Co-operative located across Taylor Manor, which will be re-developed as part of the multi-million dollar long-term housing project. Her main concern was that Taylor Manor was going to be a repeat of the maligned Steeves Manor housing project, in which BC Housing moved in people with drug and alcohol addictions to live alongside elderly and disabled residents.

After seeing the details of the proposed project, however, Lang said she felt less apprehensive.

"I understand that it's going to be 24 hour staffing, and there's going to be an assessment," she said. "The housing is an enhanced model, the highest level of supportive housing."

The enhanced supportive housing model refers to independent suites with mental health workers on site 24 hours a day. Councillor Kerry Jang, who worked directly with the anonymous donor and the city's housing advocate Judy Graves since November 2010 in coordinating the project, said that the project is targeted specifically toward helping the most vulnerable people with mental illness in Vancouver.

"That's why the donation is so large, to make sure extra care and extra programs are available," he said in a telephone interview. 

Vancouver resident Richard Saunders and his two sons have lived in the Adanac Housing Co-op near Taylor Manor for several years. Photo for the Vancouver Observer by Beth Hong. Copyright 2012.

Richard Saunders, another resident at the Adanac Co-op and the founder of the Downtown Eastside aboriginal youth outreach organization Blade Runners, was also open to the new facility in his neighbourhood.

"I know some people are worried that maybe some people are going to break out of this place, and steal from them and hurt them, and I don't think that's true," he said at the open house. "I'm certainly willing to give it a try."

The City is expected to have another round of open calls for feedback from the community by the end of the year.

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