As a former Minister of Social Development and Housing, I was responsible for the Charlottetown Outreach Centre, and was Minister when it was opened at the site of the old Charlottetown Curling Club. When “Motion 63 – Calling on government to release a community outreach centre backup plan” was called to the floor for debate, I took the opportunity to talk about the Charlottetown Outreach Centre.
Hansard-14 November 2023 (PDF) – Transcript starting on page 51 of 57 (page 1947 of Hansard)
Speaker: The hon. Member from Rustico-Emerald.
B. Trivers: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I wanted to rise and speak to this motion because frankly, I think it’s just heading in the wrong direction. It’s not actually trying to address the real issues, and frankly, I find it a little bit puzzling.
I have a bunch of notes that I’ve been keeping to speak about here, but I wanted to start by looking at the motion itself. I think this has already been said, but the first clause is: “Whereas the government’s recent decision to try to move the Community Outreach Centre appears to have been sudden.”
I can tell you this is anything but sudden. I can tell you that the experts within government have been working on this for a long time and have been considering this for a long time. Going back, when is that now, about a year and a half ago when I was minister, I talked to constituents of the community, I understood the concerns, and we were looking at it then, saying: Is this the best place to put it?
The current minister just talked about it. When it comes to looking for a location, the first question is: Okay, what part of the province should it be in? Every single expert that I talked to agrees, Charlottetown was the location. When I was minister, they agreed that and I looked at it. We had the one that was around the corner there. Everybody agreed it still should be in Charlottetown. Immediately, of course, councillors started raising concerns.
People like Mitch Tweel came to me and said, “Look, this can’t be in my neighbourhood. We don’t want it there,” et cetera. I said, “Mitch, that’s great. I’m listening to you. I understand.” We can say it’s not in my backyard; you can say whatever you want. This is not something most communities want in their (Indistinct).
I said, “But Mitch, you’re with the City of Charlottetown. You’re a long-time councillor. Why don’t you go and put a committee together? If you need funding, I’ll get you funding. Why don’t you give a location then? You say where you want it to go.”
He refused to do that. He wouldn’t take the funding. He would not take the proactive steps as a City of Charlottetown councillor to go out and find a solution and present it to government.[Interjections]
B. Trivers: This is his community.
G. McNeilly: Exactly. What’s your point?
B. Trivers: Why isn’t he working to help find a place to serve his community members? I mean, here in this House today, we have other representatives that represent this community. I really and truly believe that – well, almost everybody in this House really wants to help this community and wants to see them helped. But one of the big cries, and it might be in the motion here as well, is having the – there it is – “the Province’s back-up plan rely on community consultation and approval.”
Community consultation: The very first thing that I said when we were considering moving the outreach centre – because there was one before – to the location of the former Charlottetown Curling Club was: What does the community think? Do we need to consult? How do we work with that?
Obviously, the history shows we did not have a public consultation. I took the advice I was given, rightly or wrongly. Perhaps that was a mistake.
But I will tell you, I’m not sure that any elected representative has ever had a public consultation with their community, including the sitting MLA for the community. I would challenge her to have a public consultation and a meeting with her community because I don’t think she ever has, as far as I know.[Interjections]
B. Trivers: The only meeting that was held, and she’s referred to it, was one that I precipitated through my deputy minister at the time at the outreach centre, which she’s referred to a number of times with all of the various different groups that formed up the steering committee that ran the outreach centre. I think it’s really important –
K. Bernard: (Indistinct) the consultation.
B. Trivers: There we go, we have the admission that the local MLA who serves the community, who is in the community, who lives there and looks after it has refused to have a public consultation or meeting. She says the government should do it. Why is that?[Interjections]
B. Trivers: Is she afraid of the political fallout? What is she afraid of? Is she afraid of her own constituents, facing them face to face and realizing what the truth is? I don’t know. She has had a hard time trying to walk this fine line between whether she really believes in helping the vulnerable or playing that political game about ticking people off.
P. Bevan-Baker: Oh, come on.
B. Trivers: She really has. She really has. She’s done that. She has been very, very unclear at various times throughout this whole process. And I’ve got to give her the benefit of the doubt. I think she errs on the side of – she wants to help the most vulnerable. Like I said, almost everybody in here does, although some have said that they want to shut down the outreach centre, which boggles my mind. I think we’ve heard other people allude to that as well.
If you shut down the outreach centre, what do you do? I think it came up today earlier, maybe it was during Question Period. Was it over 300 people that were served by that outreach centre? There is a need, for sure. Now, do we have it right? No. I think everybody has admitted that we’re still striving to find the right solution, but the fact is we do have an operating outreach centre with some very capable and competent experts who are reaching out to people. Maybe we’re not helping everybody exactly the way we need to, but there are people who are being helped. We are trying.
This is something that the Premier said multiple times. This is a growing trend, not just in our province but across the country. This is probably one of the greatest challenges of our era in politics as we deal with mental health and addictions issues and the resulting homelessness. And of course, as the Leader of the Third Party always says, it’s rooted in trauma.
Our government has also listened, and we’ve tried to take a trauma-based approach so we can stop that because we want to get to the root cause. What we’re talking about is the acute BandAid right now.
The Member from Charlottetown-West Royalty always likes to talk about this 24/7 shelter. I have yet to hear him expound on what the details of that actually mean. Out of one side of the mouth, you’re saying we can’t have people with severe mental health issues together in the same building during the day with people who are just down on their luck and homeless and they’re experiencing troubles with finances. But then in the next breath, he wants everybody to live together 24/7.
I think this is very important. I am not an expert in this area. He is not an expert in this area. We need to listen to the experts, and guess what? Guess what? The Minister of Housing, the Premier, and our government have just made great progress in going out and hiring one of the foremost experts in Canada to come and look at this –[Interjections]
B. Trivers: We are making progress. We are probably going to be one of the leading jurisdictions in Canada when it comes to this. The former minister, the Member from Kensington-Malpeque, he had a vision as well. This idea of sudden – none of this happens overnight. Some of the experts need to be given some credit here; people like Roxanne Carter-Thompson, who has just been working tirelessly for so many years, decades, really, with this vulnerable population and most recently with the outreach centre.
People like John Horrelt with the Canadian Mental Health Association; when it comes that CMHA building, what is it, a 23-unit building, 22-unit building on Fitzroy Street? That’s a modular building. He went to Alberta. He made a contact with 720 Solutions. He brought that back to CMHA and he lobbied the government supports to make it happen, and he did, and it’s fantastic.
These are the people we need to continue to listen to because that’s how we’re going to do it. We’re not arrogant as a government to think that we have all the answers. We need to engage the experts, these longtime community members, and we need to listen to them in what they have to say.
I met with 720 Solutions when I was minister and that’s where the start of the great solution that the Member from Kensington-Malpeque eventually built at Park Street came from. 720 Solutions said, hey, look, we understand that our new modular units can be on the expensive side; $350,000 for your 720 square foot building block. But guess what? We’ve been building these for years and years and we have a whole bunch of them that we’ve deployed in the far north at oil camps. The oil camps are empty now and they’re looking to get rid of them.
That was brought forward during my time as minister, but the deputy minister who ran with it, and then the Member from Kensington-Malpeque capitalized on it and got the Park Street shelter built.
This is what you call teamwork. This is what you call long-term solutions. This is how you solve problems like this, by working together.
So, here we are with this motion on the table, and we’ve got the Leader of the Official Opposition who keeps on saying that he thinks the outreach centre should be shut down.
Hon. H. Perry: As it currently operates.
B. Trivers: As it currently operates. He doesn’t have a plan. Speaking of a plan, he doesn’t have a plan. He’s like: Shut it down as it currently operates. I’m not sure what he wants us to do. If he takes a short look to his right, Charlottetown-West Royalty, he would find a member who cares deeply about the most vulnerable, a member who’s been looking solutions, and a member who knows that it can’t be shut down and it has to operate because of the valuable service that it delivers.
We’re a large caucus now of 22 individuals. We have 22 individuals in our caucus. In their caucus, there are three. I challenge them to work together the way we work together with 22.
One of the other things I wanted to talk about was transitional housing. This is another one of the favourite topics of the Member from Charlottetown-West Royalty. He always wants to know how come our transitional housing isn’t full. “Why are there open beds?”
G. McNeilly: Why don’t you have transitional housing?
B. Trivers: Well, we do have transitional housing, but guess what, transitional housing is not low-barrier housing. Transitional housing has requirements that are tied to it. If you’re going to be put into transitional housing, you can’t be using. You can’t choose to use because that’s not the purpose of transitional housing; it’s to move to that next level. That is indeed the challenge, of course. It’s to take people who are using our shelters, and many who are also using the outreach centre, and find a way to move them to that next level.
When I was minister, I took a lot of flak – I was going to say infamous but took a lot of flak – for saying we needed no-barrier housing because we were still turning people away. They were sleeping in ATM machines. When I found that out, I was like: What is going on here? How can we not be providing places for people to sleep?
The sad reality is there are some people who have such tragic problems that they’re a danger to themselves, they’re a danger to others, and that’s why they can’t be put in the shelters with the other folks. So, I was looking for really secure, safe, warm, individual solutions for that to happen, and that’s where I was going with that, but this is all part of the housing continuum.
Way back when I was the Minister of Housing, I think as a government we weren’t doing a good job of addressing the whole housing continuum. I think the Minister of Housing after me and the current Minister of Housing is doing a great job, understands that, and the department understands that, and some great leadership by a deputy minister as well to address housing, right from those people who need a secure almost cell by themselves because they’re a danger to themselves and others, through shelters, transitional housing, and then all the way up to low-income housing, and then into affordable housing and eventually into…[Interjections]
B. Trivers: And so, this government is going to be delivering on a strategy, and I know the Minister of Housing is more than up to the task for that with his great experience with the City of Charlottetown. I really look forward to that.
The other part of the equation – and this is why it’s so complex, because it has to do with that trauma, mental health issues, and addictions – is making sure we have a pathway for people to get well out of that. It takes a lot of resources; a lot of money and a lot of time. It’s not easy.
I wanted to talk about a couple things. One of them is the changes to the Mental Health Act that just went through. This is a step forward. I talked about it before, I’m not sure it’s a step forward enough, but this is a way, when people really truly are a harm to themselves and others, that we can come up with things like community treatment orders so they can actually get the help they need.
I believe we saw Marlene Bryenton in the gallery earlier today as well. She’s going through a classic challenging situation with her son. It’s very public; that’s why I feel comfortable speaking about it. Kudos to the Minister of Health and Wellness who signed a Ministerial Order to bring her son back to Prince Edward Island. The concerns are there that the Mental Health Act doesn’t go far enough and that it won’t be able to put him in a position to accept a community treatment order. But this is the balance that has to be struck, and this government is making progress because the new Mental Health Act takes that one step further.
There’s a suite of legislation coming forward from the Minister of Justice and Public Safety department, and this has to do with guardianship and substitute decision-making. Of course, supported decision-making is a little bit outside of that, but really, it’s the ability to help people make the best decisions for themselves. Again, it’s a whole spectrum as well; people who truly are harming themselves and others, to people who just need a little bit of guidance day to day.
It’s easy to try and muddle those together. I hope that the opposition, whether it be the third party or the official opposition, does not attempt to muddy those waters because they are very different situations, and we really need to have this legislation in place so we help all groups of people.
One of the things as well – and I believe that was brought up today too – is when people come out of addiction treatment, they need a way to get supports so that they don’t fall back to their old ways because they don’t want to. It was brought up today. If I go back to an outreach centre or the shelter where that same group of people that was my community where I was using, then I’m likely to fall back into that.
This is where I want to give kudos to people who have forged ahead and opened up places like Lennon Recovery House. I want to give Dianne Young a lot of credit. Dianne Young is a firecracker with a vision, and a founder. When people said no, no, no, it can’t be done, she made it happen.
We all know she’s moved on from Lennon Recovery House now, but her legacy lives on there and it’s becoming mature. There is a place where people can go after treatment so they stay well, and in fact, that’s a path – Lennon Recovery House, now they’re building tiny homes right next to them. So, after people leave Lennon Recovery House, they can actually find affordable rent in these tiny homes with the supports needed as they transition back into full-time work. This is the pathway that we need. This is the pathway, frankly, that our government is supporting. These are the pathways that our government is helping build. I believe we’re on the right track.
Is it happening fast enough? Does it ever happen fast enough? No. If it’s your loved one who’s living on the street, with mental health and addictions treatment, it’s never fast enough, but I do believe we’re on the right track. So, I’m really glad to see that.
I can’t really support this motion the way it’s written. I do support the Province continuing to help vulnerable Islanders. I support the Province continuing to lobby the City of Charlottetown to step up to the plate and be part of the solution. I support the opposition, whether that be the third party or the official opposition, in working together with our government to help provide solutions to make sure we help our vulnerable Islanders.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.