Riverview could be a solution

Re: "Riverview not the answer," opinion column, Friday, Oct. 18.

Bev Gutray and Marina Morrow make good points, many of which would be answered with the reopening of a new Riverview mental-health-care community.It's unfortunate that they aren't up on what's being proposed by those working and wishing to renew the Riverview campus. Institutionalized care in a 300-bed hospital, as Gutray and Morrow suggest, isn't part of this.They write that "we need to address the lack of affordable, safe and supportive housing options in our province."The 244 acres of Riverview could support this. Existing cottages are now home to a few remaining psychiatric-care residents, and more such comfortable, attractive homes could be built. Also, the big old buildings, with their structurally sound concrete cores, could be remodelled into nice apartments for many more people requiring permanent homes."Many British Columbians with mental illnesses or substance use problems ... can be found on the street, under bridges and in shelters - which are not homes," they say.Many of these homeless people are far from their families and home communities or are estranged entirely. Providing pleasant housing in the Riverview oasis would be more compassionate than putting them into bleak suburban group homes midst wary neighbours."A longer-term goal would be to invest in building a variety of housing options across the province with varying levels of mental health treatment and supports. This would allow people at all stages of recovery to live in, and contribute to, their communities," they add.Yes, for patients with home communities to return to, such housing options should be available. For others, who are alienated from their original families and supports, why not Coquitlam? Why not the Riverview site, with a variety of long-term housing options? The Riverview lands are capacious enough, with potential galore, to offer various levels of treatments and supports. With a dedicated hospital on the grounds - perhaps the 85-bed one planned a few years ago - help would be at hand when needed."We also need to ensure that there are places that people experiencing distress from mental illness can go, to receive care, where they can't be turned away," they write.Exactly. Cottages and apartments to settle those in need midst a beautiful, green setting - "quarter-way housing," not "half-way" into cold neighbourhoods - with an acute care hospital available 24/7. Gutray and Morrow prescribe "an institutional setting to care for people who have severe symptoms now." Then, when patients leave facilities, "there are places for them to live and experience recovery."Not only could Riverview provide all these things for a sizeable number of people requiring psychiatric care integrated into their home lives, but the surrounding Tri-Cities very much want them to be there and to integrate into the larger community. No NIMBYism or cold shoulders there.Further, the grounds of Riverview are open to all, and the public visiting the arboretum and gardens would easily be part of the Riverview community.It is further proposed that some of the buildings be refurbished to accommodate psychiatric education, training and research, to become part of a world-leading centre for enlightened, integrated care.Had Gutray and Morrow known these things about all that Riverview might be, rather than invoking old-think, turn-backthe-clock institutionalization of acute-care patients, they'd have written a piece advocating its preservation and expansion, not continued abandonment so it can be sold for a song to developers for market housing.This latter may well happen, and if so, it will be a travesty and utter waste of marvellous, unrealized potential.The old Riverview is closed and done. This break from the past allows for the new Riverview to come into being. It's a jewel of a site that's far too good for anything but a compassionate, diverse care community for mental-health treatments and healing.

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Brenda Guiled

Co-editor (as B. Guild Gillespie) of The Riverview Lands: Western Canada's First Botanical Garden

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