Feature Story                                                                                                    Thursday May 12, 2011


Connect, Contribute, Collaborate

Chilliwack Healthier Community Strategic Plan finds it's legs

Craig Hill/Voice photos


Vicki McLeod (R), Helen Roberts and Karen Stanton talk about the Healthier Community Strategic Plan last night at the Cultural Centre.


hilliwack's bubble is about to burst. The smallish city of 80,000 has it's hands full dealing with the big city issues like drugs and crime that have descended upon it over the last decade.


With the gentrification of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside taking place, many of those people being squeezed out there will end up on this city's doorstep, amplifying the problem here, so its in everyone's best interest to have a game plan as soon as possible to deal with the influx and the associated problems that will inevitably accompany them.

Ten years and a mountain of paper later, consultants Vicki McLeod and Helen Roberts along with City of Chilliwack planner Karen Stanton now have a tangible plan to present to residents in terms of a safer, happier and more cohesive community of Chilliwack.

On Wednesday, the public finally got a look at the Healthier Community Strategic Action Plan at the Arts and Culture Centre on Corbould.

The Plan looks at the hot-button issues of crime and public safety, addictions and mental health as well as homelessness and affordable housing.

Ron Plowright, FHA Community Health Specialist

McLeod, who has been the main driving force behind the Plan, said a steering committee provided guidance when formulating the strategy.

Information tables were set up around the Rotary Hall outlining the various elements and issues that were looked at in the report.

When Roberts took the floor she described how they worked from an "initial plan that focused on downtown issues."

"In 2008, a social issues advisory committee was struck and that is where a lot of the ideas with the 'one-stop-shop' came from and also there was a real belief, a real need to focus on collaboration," she said.

"In 2009, there was a call for increased community networking and a call for a strategic action plan which is how we ended up here today."

                                                                Debbie Denault, Community Literacy Coordinator

Roberts said they wanted to focus on what Chilliwack was already good at and that the plan had to come from the community and be community-driven.

"In the planning process we had so much emphasis on the great work that Chilliwack is already doing and what you'll see in a lot of the ideas and suggestions that came forward was that it wasn't about creating new work, it was about partnerships and creating linkages," said Roberts. "The plan had to be implementable and feasible," she said.

Roberts lauded the City as a main facilitator who have been generous and supportive throughout the process and by providing the expertise of Stanton.

"We are at the place where we are now bringing it to the community for feedback and once we get your feedback, what we'll be doing is looking at how do we get this actually up and running."

The Strategic plan also came with some interesting Chilliwack statistics gathered from the 2006 census.

Total: 4,888

"I think that when you look at each of the issues, they're inter-related and that's part of what makes them so complex in terms of trying to address them," said Stanton.

"When we hear people talking about affordable housing in particular, it's often said that no one level of government, one organisation can tackle that issue on it's own and so what we've seen locally are a lot of good examples of collaboration."

Stanton talked about the Health Contact Centre, which is meant to bring all the services that people need under one roof.

"Whether it's medically related or whether its related to addiction and prevention services," she said.

Stanton also mentioned the "Chilliwack Connect" project last fall, which put people in touch with a variety of services that she said was "very successful".

According to Stanton, a mental health forum will take place in the future which will help give residents better access to services.

When dealing with homeless individuals, Stanton said that the costs can range up to $50,000 for caring for each person on the street, taking into consideration police resources and hospital emergency services.

"5700 people can't afford an 1-bedroom average rent and we also have about 2300 individuals on income and shelter allowance that are struggling to make ends meet." she said. "So often what happens with people on assistance is that they're unable to afford their rent, they use money that they have for other purposes, for food, for clothing and then they're dependent on food programs and food banks in the community and those numbers are increasing as well."

Stanton said homeless numbers have increased since 2008 but points out that it's an undercount.

The City did a Quality of Life survey last year and in it, 44 per cent of the respondents felt that crime was increasing.

"There's perception and there's reality," said Stanton. "In the past, we've had some alarming media reports based on past statistics."

However, Stanton insists that there have been improvements based on reports from police but she admits the numbers are still "alarming" despite more effective methods of dealing with the wave of crime sweeping through the city.

"In the Fraser Health Authority area (FHA), Chilliwack has the 2nd highest crime rate (out of 20 Lower Mainland municipalities) and it illustrates a number of issues that Chilliwack needs to have addressed."

In addition, FHA indicates that mental health issues with people under the age of 55 are the leading cause of hospitalization with approximately 130 referrals per month.

Mcleod said that they have engaged the community through a variety of ways including 3 focus area sessions, an online survey, a parallel youth consultation.

"We got all the groups together to talk about community vision," explained Mcleod. "Then we held action planning sessions again by priority area."

Over the past month, residents have been invited to view the 48-page draft of the plan online at the City of Chilliwack website.

"We identified community strengths, identified community issues and we identified the opportunities for collaboration."

Debbie Denault, Community Literacy Coordinator for the Chilliwack Learning Community Society (CLCS), says their role in the Plan was vital.

"Literacy cuts across all of this because a lot of the people who are struggling to go forward in their life with literacy challenges," said Denault.

Once people understand the process they can then become more involved in it.

"For some people what happens is they haven't developed a love of learning or they've been really discouraged in learning and going forward and for any of us, our ability to keep learning and be excited about learning helps us reach our potential and go forward in life, tackle challenges, solve problems, build relationships and do better in the workforce and all kinds of things so this underlying theme of how important it is for all of us to keep learning is really important," she said.

"With the Learning Community Society, we've been working for the last 3-years to build-in extra supports in the community, for example we have volunteer tutors and so they're wonderful people who are trained as literacy volunteers that can work on tutoring people to help them go forward, whether they're in a formal learning setting or they just want to keep learning how to help somebody else."

For more information visit www.chilliwackhealthiercommunity.com

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