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Consultation wanted before mental health patients move near schools

Abbotsford News - 2/23/2018

Abbotsford's board of education wants to be consulted before mental health patients are housed near its schools.

Local trustees plan to submit a motion to the B.C. School Trustees Association's annual general meeting in April urging members to demand a duty to consult for organizations that operate near schools. The decision came at a board meeting last week after trustees received a letter from "concerned parents" who, in part, blame an increase in crime near their elementary school on mental health patients living in a motel across the street.

But police and the health authority both say there is no evidence to suggest hotel guests with mental health issues played any part in rising crime rates in the neighbourhood.

The parents say crime is constant in and around the Alpine Inn across the street from the Abbotsford School of Integrated Arts North Poplar. Theft, prostitution, drug use and dealing are all daily occurrences at the Alpine, they say.

READ: Abbotsford parents demand action on crime-ridden inn near school

Police have confirmed they have been called to the location nearly once every three days over the last year.

Fraser Health has placed mental health patients at the Alpine in the past, but it is unfair to blame criminal activity on their presence, according to spokesperson Tasleem Juma.

A dozen participants in the Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program who could not find or afford market rental housing were placed at the motel in 2016. They had "wraparound" services brought to them to assist in their own care, including psychiatrists, nurses and social workers. No ACT clients have stayed at Alpine since September 2017, Juma said.

The school district wasn't consulted or notified of the clients moving in because that wasn't necessary, Juma said. She said mental health patients shouldn't be expected to consult new neighbours any more than other members of a community.

Fraser Health assessed each participant before placing them at the inn and determined they were the right fit for the environment, including the nearby school, Juma said.

"When someone is placed somewhere, it's done after a lot of consideration about what's appropriate for them and what's appropriate for the community."

Police were called to the inn more and more over 2016 and 2017 but not once did they complain to Fraser Health about its clients, Juma said.

Sgt. Judy Bird said there's no evidence to suggest increased calls to the Alpine can be attributed to the presence of ACT clients. She said most calls are for other motel guests with outstanding warrants.

And, Juma said, blaming crime on those actively engaged in their own mental health care adds to the stigma of mental illness.

"These are people who want to feel like they are are part of a community, that they belong within that community," Juma said.

Juma said she didn't know exactly why the health authority stopped placing people there.

"If we thought it was a suitable place to be, then we would place people there," she said.


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