Surrey City Hall. (File photo)

Surrey city staff hears restricting recovery homes to six clients won’t cut it

Corporate report notes there are more recovery homes in Surrey than in every other community in B.C. combined

Surrey council has decided a city staff report aimed at “improving both the quality” of operators and the care they provide at drug and alcohol recovery houses within Surrey has missed the mark.

Council at its June 29 meeting sent the report back to staff for further review. The corporate report recommended that the number of residents be limited to six, consistent with the occupancy typical of single-family homes, and to allow for better physical distancing between the residents.

Councillor Linda Annis said limiting occupancy to six beds, at a per diem rate of $39.90, “doesn’t provide enough revenue to operate these homes in a proper manner.”

“Clients of these homes need to be close to support services that are generally clustered,” she said, “and by restricting the distances between homes to 400 metres will prevent them from getting the much-needed support.”

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The report also noted that while the province has since brought in new regulations with particular focus on Surrey, it will likely take “at least” two years for it to meet with all of Surrey’s operators, and for them to “satisfy the requirements of the new regulations.”

The corporate report notes there are more recovery homes in Surrey than in every other community in B.C. combined.

As of June 3, Surrey has 49 per cent of all assisted living units in the region, followed by Abbotsford (9.4 per cent), Langley Township (9.2 per cent), Maple Ridge (7.2 per cent), Vancouver (6.3 per cent), Coquitlam (5.9 per cent), Richmond (4.7 per cent), North Vancouver District (2.4 per cent), Burnaby (2.1 per cent), Port Coquitlam (1.5 per cent), New Westminster (1.5 per cent), and Delta (.9 per cent).

Since December 2018, two residents died at one of these homes, resulting in the provincial government cancelling its registration and the city cancelling the operator’s business licences.

City staff also recommended that new recovery homes not be permitted to operate within 400 metres of existing ones, and be able to house no more than two people who are on parole or subject to other post-custody conditions.

The privately run houses – commonly referred to as group homes, transition homes are sober living homes – were in 2016 capped at 55 business licences in Surrey under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act. Presently 52 licences have been issued.

The Business License Bylaw requires everyone applying to operate a drug and alcohol recovery house to undergo a criminal background check.

Councillor Brenda Locke said she has “real concerns” with the report, “certainly around the issue of six beds.”

“I think the report will also in some ways penalize those good operators that we have and it will drive, in some ways will drive, some of the bad behaviour further underground.”

Locke said some people come out of jail looking for a recovery home and some of the conditions contained in the report are “onerous kind of things to put on operators and people that need this kind of housing.”

“We have to remember that in the City of Surrey at any time there’s somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000 people that are in one form of addition or another,” she said. “I think we need these kind of facilities. We don’t have enough in our city and so that’s a concern. My over-arching, though, biggest concern is that if we decrease too many of these too fast before our other housing is available like the Green Timbers project, we will wind up with more people that are homeless and I’m very concerned about that because if we close 10 or 20 of these, that puts a lot of people on the street.”

Councillor Doug Elford said he needed “more information” and Councillor Laurie Guerra said she needs “more clarity on it.”

“The City of Surrey has more of these supportive recovery homes operating here than all of the other regions, all of the others in the region combined, and so this is a big deal,” Guerra said.

Councillor Steven Pettigrew remarked that recovery home operators were “not consulted properly.

“They were caught a bit off guard by this,” he said. “I’d encourage staff to contact those operators and have some really in-depth discussions with them before bringing this back to us.”

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