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Hastings-Sunrise: Mental health centre blending into area

Facility was widely opposed when proposed in 2007

Opposition to a planned 45,000-square-foot mental health centre at 2750 East Hastings St. was vociferous in 2007. But it appears the counselling and outreach facility hasnt had the corrosive effects on the community that were anticipated.

Residents concerned about the impact the large Vancouver Coastal Health facility would have on their neighbourhood formed a group called Advocates for Hastings-Sunrise that collected hundreds of names on a petition and protested outside city hall. They questioned the wisdom of offering multiple services in one building instead of distributing them throughout the city. A group called Neighbours for Mental Health subsequently formed to support the centre.

In November 2007, after a seven-hour development permit board meeting attended by 150 people, the centre was approved.

Dave Renz, a part-time manager at Hastings Liquor Store across the street from the facility, hasnt noticed any problems since the facility opened in December 2009.

I dont think theres a problem with that sort of thing, he said. I think more facilities are a good thing.

Liakat Jiwa, pharmacy manager and pharmacist at Hastings Pharmacy at 2724 East Hastings, also reports no problems.

Some of our patients go there, he said. Its actually quite convenient for them.

Patricia Barnes, executive director of the Hastings North Business Improvement Association, said she heard concerns from residents and business owners when the facility was planned, but the BIA supported the centres development. [We] have not had any concerns raised to us at all since theyve moved in, she said.

Laura Hansen, manager of mental health and addictions for Vancouver Coastal Health, was disheartened by the fears she heard expressed at the development permit board meeting in 2007.

There [are] a couple of schools in the neighbourhood and [parents] were worried about their children, Hansen said. But what they maybe didnt realize fully was that actually there are a lot of children who come here for services.

A Shoppers Drug Mart occupies the ground floor of the three-storey brick building at 2750 East Hastings near Kaslo. The centre offers an early psychosis intervention and eating disorders programs for 13- to 30-year-olds, multiple services for children and youth, mental health services for adults who live in the area and outreach assistance for people with mental illness to find and retain housing. It does not offer services specific to addictions, as some neighbours worried it would down the road.

I dont think anyone notices us, Hansen said. Were just sort of that office building over there.

Hansen is pleased to support those in need in the centre that includes skylights, inviting meeting rooms and a play therapy room for children.

Barry Sharbo, a spokesperson for the Advocates for Hastings-Sunrise, did not return the Couriers calls.

The Vancouver Police Department wouldnt provide statistics regarding the number of calls to the building, which media spokesperson Const. Brian Montague said would include missing persons and routine alarm calls.