Choice was a word used often by speakers at Wednesday’s council meeting as they offered feedback on the revised Pearson-Dogwood Policy Statement.
Council deferred a decision on the statement at its Jan. 22 meeting after individuals and organizations raised concerns about care and support of people with disabilities, particularly fears about “institutionalizing” them, in the redevelopment of the property. The revisions allayed many of those concerns and council approved the revised statement unanimously.
Vancouver Council Health aims to redevelop the 25-acre site and reinvest back into health care. The project, a mixed-use development that will include health care and related services, housing, community amenities and park space, represents the largest redesign in Vancouver Coastal Health’s history.
Critics disputed the plan for a 150-bed complex-care facility to house Dogwood Lodge’s 113 beds and 37 of George Pearson’s beds, with the remaining 83 Pearson beds becoming independent living units.
They objected to putting the 37 George Pearson beds in the complex-care facility, which they consider an institutional environment and argued for choice in living arrangements to ensure people with disabilities have autonomy over their lives.
An agreement on revisions was reached with Vancouver Coastal Health late last week. They include that there will be no institutions on the Pearson redevelopment for people with disabilities; that no one currently living at Pearson can be transferred to another institution or facility elsewhere unless they request that option; that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be followed, and that the “Proposal for Housing and Support for the Pearson Redevelopment” will be the basis for implementing housing and support on the site.
That proposal, endorsed by 20 organizations, provides people with four housing and support options — two living by yourself options and two living in small groups options — one of the latter being a “Greenhouse” model in which six to 12 people live together, which is the preferred model for many people currently living at Pearson.
Tasia Alexis, a member of the city’s People with Disabilities Advisory Committee, welcomed the revisions.
“The consensus document that everybody has worked so hard on gives people the ability to have a choice and gives people the ability to actually decide where they want to live, with whom they want to live. This is very important. Institutions are our history, they don’t have to become our future,” she said.
Cathy Browne, also a member of the committee, said those involved in the redevelopment plans will need to remain vigilant about the commitment to the policy statement’s objectives, but she voiced support for it.
“Please don’t lose sight of the fact that traditional institutions rob people of freedom, of choice and control. They rob them of dignity, of safety, of self-expression and quality of life. As you’ve heard, these are inherent rights — not privileges that should be enjoyed by everyone, disabled or not. The proposed policy statement and the variety of housing and support options have the potential to ensure that these rights simply become a fact of life,” Browne told council.
Jill Weiss, chair of the committee, agreed.
“We have come a very long way in two short weeks. From a proposal of outmoded practice that closed the door on people’s rights and freedoms, we now have an excellent proposal that protects peoples’ rights, commits to the global best practice of independent community living, follows the UN Convention and opens the door to equal and full participation,” she said.
Not everyone backed the revisions.
Faith Bodnar, executive director of Inclusion B.C., urged council to reject the policy statement based on her group’s ongoing concerns about institutionalization.
“What we see today is the first early attempt for Vancouver Coastal Health to catch up and enter the 21st century. Notable an effort perhaps, but nowhere near good enough and most assuredly not even close to the mark if they truly want to innovate and ensure truly personalized and individualized supports for people currently living at Pearson and those who follow. No greenhouses, which is another name for institutions. No option for choice, and I put choice in quotation marks, to go to another institution for that is a perversion of true choice. It doesn’t recognize the power dynamics a d the experience of people living in institutions,” she said.
Now that council has passed the policy statement, Vancouver Coastal Health can file a rezoning application.