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Mentally ill make way for addicted in Victoria housing shuffle

VICTORIA – The British Columbia government is finding housing for people with addictions to drugs and alcohol by pushing out people with mental illnesses, says a Victoria psychiatrist.

“You can take advantage of the chronically mentally ill and get away with it, that's my take on it,” said André Masters. Case managers have told him that thanks to a Vancouver Island Health Authority decision, the Tillicum Apartments in Victoria are moving from housing people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia to taking people with serious addictions, he said.

“When something is working and not causing any ripples, they have to dismantle it,” he said. “If the community knew they were going to be having people with serious addiction problems, I don't know what their reaction would be.”

Nobody has been moved out of the Tillicum Apartments against their will, said Alan Campbell, the director of mental health and addictions services for VIHA. But as vacancies arise they are being filled with hard-to-house people who have come into contact with VIHA's assertive community treatment teams.

“There is turnover in all of our units,” he said. Already the ACT teams have moved 10 or 12 people into the apartments, he said. Many of the people the ACT teams reach suffer from both addictions and mental illness, he said.

“We see that this is probably where we're going to go with that building,” he said. “Periodically we make changes in the system as we try to match better the clients and the services that are needed.”

Often people stabilize at the Tillicum Apartments before finding somewhere else to live, he said. “As people do better they really want to get out of there. They want to be in like a normal building.”

The apartments are just one of 40 residential care settings VIHA manages, he said, and there will be space for people with mental illnesses elsewhere.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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