OPINION: Princeton clubhouse plans don’t live up to promises

Nearly 24 months of talking and we’ve moved about 15 yards.

The news last week that Princeton’s Anchorage House – a drop in centre for mental health and addiction clients – will reopen after nearly two years was certainly welcome.

Yet at the same time there was a genuine sense of anticlimax.

One shouldn’t go so far as to say that plans for the badly needed clubhouse are too little, too late.

Yet, they are not very big plans. And they were a long time coming.

A committee has been working since early 2016 to re-establish Anchorage, after its building was sold and its residents shown the street.

Two different managers of mental health and addictions for Interior Health promised the delay in establishing a new clubhouse owed itself to the authority’s desire to improve and expand the programing, and make its services available to a larger population.

There needed to be outreach, consultation, study and thoughtful planning.

However the program now being proposed looks almost exactly like the program it’s replacing. It is designed to serve the same number of people – about 25 – and will actually be located in a municipally owned building that is directly adjacent to the old Anchorage House property on Veterans’ Way.

Nearly 24 months of talking and we’ve moved about 15 yards.

The one notable difference is that IH is in the process of contracting out Anchorage’s administration and day-to-day operations to a third party.

It’s a model that works in other communities, says IH manager Kevin Fraser, with similar services being offered by groups like the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The bid for services has yet to be advertised locally – it closes December 21 – but can be viewed on BCbids.com.

It says the operator will create a “safe, secure, supportive, accepting and inviting environment which promotes growth and encourages change for persons who experience serious and persistent mental illness. Services will target four psycho-social-rehabilitation service domains (leisure, work, personal life, education) and will offer structured program opportunities.”

There may well be an existing social service group in Princeton qualified and willing to take this on – but it ought to be noted there are no minimum requirements attached to the RFP.

According to Fraser, the operator doesn’t need an education or degree, diploma or certificate in social work, health or addiction, although he or she must have experience.

The maximum annual budget for Anchorage is $69,000.

Hopefully that’s enough to purchase a committed community partner willing to do what Interior Health said it was going to do all along, and that is to broaden the program’s scope, reach out to new clients in the municipality, and become a true centre for mental health improvement and support.

The 25 people who were benefitting from Anchorage in the past are important members of the community, and some of Princeton’s most vulnerable souls.

It would be foolish to imagine they are the only ones needing assistance however.

According to Interior Health’s own statistics Princeton has one of the highest rates of anxiety and depression in BC’s Interior – 37 per cent of people afflicted compared to a provincial average of 25 per cent.

At least four people here have died from Fentanyl overdose this year.

And a University of Victoria study reveals Princeton residents over the age of 15, on average, drink 16.04 litres of pure alcohol a year – out of 89 local health areas our little town is ranked ninth for boozing.

We need the Anchorage, and we need it to be more than it’s ever been.

It may be up to the continued interest of local health advocates, existing medical professionals and volunteers to make sure that happens. – AD

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