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Riverview pilot for homeless will shut down

A pilot project at Riverview Hospital that filled a critical gap in serving the needs of the homeless will be shutting down in two months.

A pilot project at Riverview Hospital that filled a critical gap in serving the needs of the homeless will be shutting down in two months.

Since January 2010, the transitional recovery program has been providing supportive housing for people battling mental illness, severe addiction, unresolved trauma and chronic disease such as HIV, Hepatitis C and diabetes.

Run by Coast Mental Health, the program received formerly homeless clients from the Burnaby Centre of Mental Health and Addictions. Women were placed in a 22-bed facility in the Brookside building and, starting in May 2010, men were placed in the Leeside building.

Program director Beata Zaleska said the 100-bed Burnaby Centre, which was built in 2008 at Riverviews, filled up quickly with clients battling concurrent disorders.

"There was no quick fix," Zaleska said.

The Provincial Health Services Authority issued a call for proposals in the fall of 2009 and awarded the contract for the transitional recovery program to Coast Mental Health with a $2.5-million annual budget. The contract was extended from November 2011 to the end of March 2012 after organizers were unable to place clients in appropriate housing or facilities.

"We were trying to negotiate to run a smaller program" because there are a number of advantages in continuing it, Zaleska said. "There is quite a significant gap in the system. There aren't enough programs that would be willing and would be equipped to work with people who have mental health challenges, who are addicted or in early recovery, and are also able to respond to the physical health challenges that many of our clients have."

Zaleska said the Burnaby Centre and, by extension, the Riverview program, are unique in that they take an intensive approach to helping people with concurrent disorders that often can't be resolved with traditional 28-day or even six-month programs.

"The ultimate goal is to help these people develop mental stability and develop a period of abstinence that would allow them to focus on life skills that would, in turn, allow them to move on to the community and to continue clean, satisfying living, with the provision of ongoing support," Zaleska said. "Realistically speaking, 99% of our clients would require indefinite support."

Gavin Wilson, director of public affairs for Vancouver Coastal Health, said the Riverview program was always meant to be a temporary solution while the health authority waited for its funding to establish specialized mental health beds.

Those beds are expected to open in the spring, along with other mental health services in Vancouver Coastal to help the Riverview clients. Wilson said 19 clients are moving to VCH while seven are moving to other health authorities.

"We're looking at a number of options, such as group homes, supported housing or whatever is appropriate for those clients," he added. "I'm confident by the end of March we'll have somewhere for them to go."

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