Since 2017, Surrey has capped the number of business licenses it issues for recovery houses at 55, and they must be listed on the B.C. government assisted living registry — a bit of problem because the 2016 amendments to the Community Care and Assisted Living Act were never enacted or enforced.
Richard Lam/PNG / PNG
B.C.’s addiction recovery houses are at the nexus of two crises – homelessness and overdose deaths.But for years, anybody with a house to rent could hang out a digital shingle advertising it as an addictions recovery home, even if all that was on offer was ramshackle accommodation and a box of cereal on the table. Their targets were welfare recipients with nowhere else to go.After years of neglect, the province and municipalities are now struggling to bring order to the chaos at a time when shuttering even the worst operators could result in more homeless addicts at risk of overdosing.Things have improved since 2014 when, in Surrey alone, as many as 250 flophouses purporting to offer supportive housing were operating.But the situation is still not good.Last December, two men died with days of each other at government-registered recovery houses operated by Step by Step.Almost worse than their deaths was the time it took between their overdose deaths and their bodies being discovered.It was two days before the body of the one was found, and between four and six hours before the other was found. It was residents, not staff, who found them.Even before the deaths, there were dozens of substantiated complaints against Step by Step. Even though no action was taken to rectify the problems, its five houses remain on the B.C. government’s assisted living registry and the social development ministry continues to pay $30.90 a day for any residents who are on welfare.Surrey has revoked the business license for the house where one of the men died. But that it was only done after Step by Step’s director Debbie Johnson voluntarily closed it.In 1998, the NDP government brought in the first regulations under the Community Care Facilities Act. Three years later, during its deregulation drive, the B.C. Liberal government scrapped them, saying the requirements were too onerous.But by 2013, the Liberals realized there was a need and re-regulated. To qualify, recovery homes needed to provide at least one “personal assistance” service that was described as something like anger or stress management courses and five “hospitality” services including meals and a 24-hour response system.Within two years, 98 homes were registered. But that did little to staunch the spread of flophouses purporting to be supportive housing and unscrupulous operators raking in money from vulnerable addicts desperate for a roof over their heads.As they proliferated in Surrey, neighbours made tons of complaints.The nightmare scenario was brought to light in 2014 when Julie Paskall was murdered outside a hockey rink by a resident from one of these flophouses.Both the city and the province scrambled to bring some order to the chaos.Using garbage, parking and noise bylaws, city officers were able to shut down more than 100 between 2014 and 2016. Still, it was like whack-a-mole. They’d shut one and an equally bad one would pop up somewhere else.In the Feb. 2016 Throne Speech, the government promised regulations, enforcement and a public registry.In late December of that year Surrey council voted to require all recovery houses to have business licenses. It capped the number at 55 and said that to qualify, the houses had to be on the government’s registry. But the staff report to council also noted that the B.C. health ministry had yet to move on its promises made nine months earlier.Unsurprisingly, it has meant years of confusion for legitimate operators trying to figure out how and what they need to do.Since 2017, Surrey has capped the number of business licenses it issues for recovery houses at 55, and among its requirements is that they must be listed on the B.C. government assisted living registry.And that’s a bit of problem. The 2016 amendments to the Community Care and Assisted Living Act were never enacted or enforced, as the health ministry acknowledged in response to the coroner’s death panel review in 2017 of a fatality in a recovery home.The coroner recommended that by Sept. 2019, there needed to be better regulations for public and private addiction treatment facilities and heightened enforcement of the rules.The government agreed and set up a committee to develop standards “to help ensure quality and consistency and enhance understanding of the services across the province.”With the September deadline looming, the assistant deputy minister of mental health and addictions wrote the coroner in May this year to say that having missed the April deadline for a progress report, the ministries would not be providing any information until the final report is due in September.But while the committee consulted widely, at least three men have died in government-registered recovery houses under deplorable circumstances.With luck, no more will die because until something is done, desperate addicts and their loved ones have to fend for themselves when they try to sort out good operators from bad.In the meantime, recovery home operators are in regulatory limbo. Surrey threatened to shut Back on Track Recovery’s four houses by the end of July because the application for provincial registration it first made in January 2016 has yet to be approved.It’s recently been granted a reprieve to the relief of the 40 men living there. More about that in my next email@example.comTwitter: @bramham_daphneRelated