Thunderbird is making a difference

The reality is that social issues are systemic and need a holistic approach to make change

It has been brought to my attention that there is a Facebook page called “Victims of Hope BC Thefts.”

On behalf of the Hope and Area Transition Society, I am making this comment to provide clarification to those who are ill-informed regarding the Thunderbird Motel Project.

The Hope and Area Transition Society has been providing services and programs to individuals and families affected by social issues since 1994. Thirteen programs and services are offered through the agency under three broad streams of social issues: domestic violence, addictions and homelessness.

The Thunderbird Motel Project was established in September 2009 when it became apparent through the Homeless Outreach Program that individuals needing housing were unable to secure and maintain housing due to a variety of complex issues. A partnership was established with the Thunderbird Motel owner who was already renting to the at-risk population, with no support services in place. When our agency entered into a partnership relationship with the motel owner, it was agreed that we would place the at-risk clients at the motel and provide support services to them. The client signs an agreement and sets out goals that they want to achieve and Paul Keller, the Homeless Outreach Program coordinator, works alongside the client to support them in their goals. Also, it is required that the clients participate in volunteering around the motel, and this could be landscaping, light maintenance, housekeeping, helping with food preparations, or working in the garden.

On a weekly or daily basis the following services are offered to the clients to support them in making change in their life: HELP addiction meetings, nurse practitioner, needle exchange program/nurse, Aboriginal mental health services, mental health services, legal aid and advocacy services, mobile library services and daily resident meetings. In addition to these services being offered, a daily breakfast and mid-day meal is provided and is prepared by the residents themselves. Support and advocacy is offered by Paul Keller at various appointments with clients on a daily basis, transporting into to town as needed and when available. There are community volunteers who come out and work with the residents, either in the garden or just working with them to meet their daily needs.

Many of the clients that live at the Thunderbird are there because of a variety of reasons such as: mental health instability, addictions, acquired brain injury, and dementia just to name a few.

Yes, there are many clients who are stilled engaged in their addiction and struggle with their mental health issues and there are those who do turn to criminal activities. However, many of the clients have reduced their usage of drugs substantially and as a Fraser Health provider, Fraser Health subscribes to a harm reduction model which is supported at the Thunderbird. Ultimately the goal is for them is to no longer be using, but for some of the clients they may have had decades of hard drug use and it will take time for them make even small changes. As for the clients who have mental health issues, by being at the Thunderbird their mental health wellness is monitored and if it appears that they are digressing in their wellness immediate services are engaged to ensure that they are admitted to the hospital as to ensure their well being and the safety of everyone. As for the criminal behaviour of some of the clients, we as an agency do not condone this behaviour and when it comes to our attention Paul Keller will address this immediately with our RCMP liaison officer. We have had to evict residents for their behaviour that jeopardizes the integrity of the program. Most recently we have had security cameras installed so we are able to monitor the premises and address concerns in an immediate fashion. There is night monitor that lives on site and Paul Keller is available Monday to Friday.

What is important to know is that we recently conducted an investigation of the number of police contacts that our residents have had pre-Thunderbird and six months post-Thunderbird and it was noted that there was a 50 per cent reduction in ‘negative police contacts.’ This is a significant reduction in contacts. With that said, we would like to see this number reduced by 100 per cent and we would like to see all our clients healthy, stable and working. The reality is that social issues are systemic and need a holistic approach to make change. We would like to see more programs, services and hours spent on helping those living at the Thunderbird and others in our community who are struggling with social issues.

Collaboration and cooperation is required to make any social changes and the importance in knowing the facts prior to engaging various levels of government is critical. Not knowing the facts and what is needed and going in based on emotions reduces the creditability of grassroots organizations that do really care and want to make a difference. A thoughtful approach, underpinned with facts will ensure creditability and will sustain the changes that are needed.

I do hope this provides a snapshot of what we are actually doing at the Thunderbird and I do invite anyone who would like a tour of the project to contact me at 604-869-5111 (ext. 231).

Gerry Dyble

Hope & Area Transition Society, executive director