Former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt provides $50,000 to help house Vancouver’s mentally ill

Jordana Divon
·Contributing Writer

Mental illness afflicts a staggering number of the country's homeless population. It's a circumstance that makes rehabilitation far more complicated than the simple "get them off the streets" refrain.

But to effectively combat the problem requires resources: access to mental health care, medication, proper housing, and a safe community are just a few on the lengthy list.

In light of tapped government resources, a pair of Vancouver brothers has made a significant contribution to a homeless compound.

Former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt and his brother Neil have donated $50,000 from their parents' estate toward social housing on the city's west side.

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As the Vancouver Sun reports, the money will go toward the Dunbar Apartments, a 51-unit complex that houses formerly homeless individuals recovering from and coping with mental illness.

The compound is managed by Coast Mental Health, a local non-profit organization.

"We thought it would be a great tribute to my mom and dad [who] were very community-minded United Church members who had a passion for dealing with mental illness," Harcourt told the paper.

Harcourt said his decision to fund the Dunbar Apartments stems partly from a desire to highlight the need for similar resources in neighbourhoods beyond Vancouver's notorious east side.

The Globe and Mail notes that the money comes at a good time.

There has been a recent spotlight on mental illness across a number of Canadian cities in an attempt to destigmatize the various conditions and to foster understanding and compassion amongst the non-afflicted.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recently launched a high-profile advertising campaign in Toronto.

In Vancouver, a similar initiative is in place to end homelessness by 2015.

The ambitious plan is not without its challenges. Darrell Burnham, executive director of Coast Mental Health, told the Globe that to realistically attain their goal in the Lower Mainland an additional 40 or 50 Dunbars — or roughly 2,500 individual units — would be required.

That's why private donations, like the one from the Harcourt family, are vital to the project's success.

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Though $50,000 won't exactly fund a full $15- to $18-million housing facility, the money will go toward quality of life features, like community events and special equipment.

Projects like Dunbar aren't without their critics, however.

Some residents have complained about the idea of sharing their neighbourhood with these special housing projects.

But Harcourt remains unfazed by the complaints.

"[They're] coming to you soon if I have my way. It's going to be like this," he said.

Because if more deep-pocketed contributors can come together on this cause, neighbourhoods will improve with fewer homeless on their streets.