Penticton city council are calling for urgent action on the mental health and addictions crisis. (Western file photo)

Penticton council in Whistler asking province for ‘urgent’ action on mental health crisis

Council is at UBCM to ask for Car40 program pairing police with a nurse

Penticton city council is in Whistler this week asking the province for the ‘immediate’ need for a Car 40 program that pairs a mental health nurse with a police officer in responding to mental health crisis calls.

That will be council’s focus when they meet with provincial cabinet ministers at the Union of B.C. Municipalities this week in Whistler.

“Our goal this year at UBCM is to keep these issues alive, not to let them slide onto the backburner until there’s a major flare-up that grabs the media’s attention,” said Mayor John Vassilaki.

The Car 40 program has the support of Penticton’s top cop and other organizations but there’s been no movement from Interior Health.

“We have a motion urging the province to support a provincial program with appropriate and sustainable funding,” said Vassilaki. “The province says all the right words and we’ll be looking for the right actions – funding.”

Councillors have confirmed appointments with Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson. The city has also asked for a meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix and is awaiting confirmation.

Penticton’s resolution asking the provincial government to end the scattergun approach to funding this type of mental health support is expected to be debated on Wednesday.

Penticton RCMP Supt. Brian Hunter has told council previously that officers are not trained to deal with mental health issues and yet that is what the majority of their calls deal with. He said having a nurse join them would make a huge difference and help those experiencing a mental health crisis.

READ MORE: “Officers are getting exhausted”: Penticton RCMP dealing with medical crisis on the streets

Kelowna city council has been asking for their Car 40 program to expand but so far have been refused by IH.

At the UBCM, city councillors will be speaking to colleagues about all the challenges they face with the lack of support for addictions and mental health.

Providing appropriate housing is one of those issues, as a recent survey completed by BC Housing identified major gaps in the types of services provided to those who are suffering from trauma, addiction and mental health in Penticton.

“We’re worried there is going to be a significant slowing of support due to the extreme changes at BC Housing,” said Vassilaki. Recently, the province fired the board of directors of BC Housing, followed by the CEO resigning.

MLA David Eby was in charge of BC Housing but has stepped away as he pursues his leadership run.

As well, the ongoing challenge of ‘catch-and-release’ of prolific offenders is also on the agenda.

“It’s a problem plaguing communities across the province and we need the provincial government to do something about it,” said Vassilaki. “The RCMP are doing everything they can but 20 prolific offenders in Penticton are averaging more than 90 contacts. It’s not sustainable for the officers and it’s creating challenges for residents. It needs to stop.”

Council is travelling to Whistler between Sept. 12 and 16 to attend UBCM. This annual event brings together local government and First Nations to identify key policy issues and engage with representatives of the provincial and federal governments.

Six members of council, along with one staff member are attending UBCM which began Monday. The total expected cost is $25,000.

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