NEWTON — Surrey council gave the green light to a controversial mental health facility near Bear Creek Park Monday night.
The 48-bed assisted living project would replace a six-bed facility that’s been operating on the property since 1994, at 14053 80th Ave. and 8054 140th St.
It would be run by Options Community Services Society, in partnership with the Fraser Health Authority and BC Housing.
City council gave the application third reading after hearing from speakers.
Six locals turned out to speak against the project, with Fraser Health, Options and the project’s architect speaking in favour.
Rina Diaz, who lives in the area, urged council to deny the proposal and consider another site.
Diaz (pictured) said she worries about residents of the facility wandering through the neighbourhood, particularly Bear Creek Elementary, which is just three blocks away. She noted that many people already cut through the school grounds to access King George Boulevard.
“We deal with our schools being broken into or vandalized. We are finding garbage, condoms and needles around our schools,” said Diaz. “Two weeks ago we were handing out supplies from one of our fundraisers and a couple children came running to us telling us about a strange man hiding behind the fence watching them play…. Why was he in the bushes? Why was he watching the children?”
In another incident, a woman wandered onto the school’s grounds and found an open door, said Diaz. The woman made her way to an empty classroom and rummaged through a teacher’s desk. She was spotted and fled.
“Was she mentally ill? Was she an addict looking for something of value to steal?” Diaz asked. “What if she had done something worse?”
Diaz revealed that her 50-year-old grandmother has struggled with bipolar schizophrenia type two for 25 years.
Though she described her as a “loving and caring” woman, Diaz said an episode in 2011 resulted in the family deciding it was too dangerous to allow her to live on her own out of fear she’d hurt someone in the community.
She told council that during a manic episode, her grandmother ran a stop sign, nearly hitting pedestrians then stopped in front of a police station.
When an officer asked her to get out of the vehicle, she refused, then reversed with him in the window, fighting him. After that, her grandmother was no longer allowed to live alone.
“We made our decision on the fear of the possibility that someone in our community could get hurt… We were not about to take that risk.
“We wouldn’t take a chance on your children,” she added. “Please, I ask you, don’t take a chance on ours.”
Resident Louis Perazelli also urged council to deny the application saying the three-storey 48-bed facility “doesn’t fit in at all” in a residential area.
Perazelli told city council that the neighbourhood will “live with the consequences” of their decision.
Meryl McDowell, Director of Mental Health Programs with Fraser Health, told city council the facility is not intended for people who are living with addictions, or for criminals, but for people with mental illness who are “stable in their recovery.”
She said the health authority goes through a “very careful screening and assessment process” to ensure patients can live appropriately in a residential community.
“We think that people can recover,” said McDowell. “They can live very successful lives with community support and acceptance.”
McDowell pointed to similar Fraser Health facilities in the region that have been successful, such as a 50-bed facility in Abbotsford and Surrey’s Timber Grove facility, with about 50 beds as well.
Lori Dennis, deputy executive director of Options, said she would make herself available to any residents who want to know more about how the operation would be run on a day-to-day basis, and that once operational, staff at the site would be accessible “24/7.”
“Should they have any concerns on a Friday night at 11 o’clock, they can call this facility so we can address it right away,” said Dennis.