By Laura Keil, Editor/Publisher
Since the departure of the Project Lead and dissolution of the Valemount Cares committee, the future of Valemount’s new seniors housing project has been the subject of hot debate and passionate missives.
Some are concerned the controversy will pull the project apart. Others argue it already has. What’s clear after hearing from people on both sides is there is a dangerous communication gap and a boatload of suspicion both ways.
The Valemount Senior Citizen’s Housing Society is responsible for the Valemount Cares seniors housing project, a proposed 18-unit complex with shared spaces (like a large dining area) slated to be built near Valemount Secondary. The key controversy involves the ultimate aim of the project – whether it is “independent living” units or “supportive/assisted living.” These are not apolitical terms. The existing funding streams for the complex (BC Housing in particular) explicitly exclude any payments for supportive/assisted living. The problem is, that is exactly what area residents would like to see built, and what the former project lead hoped to deliver through other avenues.
Now that the project lead has left, many are concerned that her passion for going above and beyond the project’s basic scope will mean the end of that dream. People’s suspicions were confirmed in a recent letter from the society’s board to stakeholders, where the board explained that, “People seem to be confused as to whether this facility will offer independent living, assisted living, supportive living, or extended care. As confirmed at a joint meeting between the Board, the Valemount Cares Committee, BC Housing’s Malachy Tohill, Regional Director, North, and David Sheach, Non-Profit Portfolio Manager (by phone) on November 16, 2022, and again at an online meeting between Ms. Amy Wong, Regional Director of Development at BC Housing; Rhonda Eager, of David Nairne and Associates and the VSCHS Board and staff on January 24, 2023 it was clarified and confirmed that this project remains – and only ever has been – independent living.”
But the letter also stated that “The Board, with the support of BC Housing, continues to pursue services such as meals, programs, and cleaning services through outside agencies such as Northern Health, Meals on Wheels, Robson Valley Community Services and the local Better At Home program.”
So are we lost in semantics?
The stakes are high. Many have already made large donations to the project believing this to be their future home, one that could assist them as they age, not merely as “independent living.” It is easy to see why it feels as though the rug is being pulled from underneath them.
At the same time, the thing about pulling rugs is that if you do it quick enough, everything is left standing exactly the way it was. In other words, it may feel as though abrupt change has occurred, but perhaps the situation has been left intact.
I reached out to the Seniors Housing Society for a submission for this week’s paper, but did not hear back. Given how their last effort at communication backfired, perhaps this isn’t surprising. However, if they are to succeed in pushing this project past the finish line undogged by public flak, they’ll need to brave the potentially hostile questions of local seniors.
In this is an important lesson, and key to the housing project’s success so far: it is the society that serves seniors, not the other way around.