Foster Monson says it's been frustrating waiting to learn whether Pine Lodge Treatment Centre will be able to welcome clients back in the near future.
The addictions recovery centre operated for years in Indian Head, Sask, but a fire in December forced it to close.
Monson said staff have located the only suitable new space in the area for relocation in Fort San, a small resort village near Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask. He said the vacant Calling Lakes Centre, used for years as the Prairie Christian Training Centre, would be a good fit.
Some members of the community are opposed to the centre. The local council says the decision hinges on a definition laid out in the zoning bylaw.
Monson said it's a tense waiting game playing out amid an overdose crisis.
"There are people that are dying out there everyday from drug overdoses and other things, and it's just a shame that we're not open," Monson, the facility's executive director, said. "It's really unfortunate this is taking place on our watch."
The proposal to council for the relocation has turned into a public spectacle since early February, with some locals voicing opposition and circulating a petition against it.
Monson said some locals have asked whether property values would decrease and crime would increase. He said there is no evidence to support those things would happen. He said some people believe needles will start appearing in the area.
"That just never has ever happened to us in 35 years. We've never had an issue like that, so I don't know where they would have got that idea," he said.
The fears from the community, which had a population of 222 in the 2016 census, were laid out in a teleconference Monson participated in.
"Some of them were pretty adamant about their position and really weren't willing to actually see it from our perspective," Monson said. "We were telling them the truth as we saw it and that's all we really can do."
The province funds the 28-day inpatient program. Residents check in voluntarily after detox.
Monson said there is no other space in the region that's suitable for the relocation.
CUPE president Judy Henley has also raised concerns about how long the centre has been shut down. CUPE is the union representing Pine Lodge staff.
"We have limited treatment centres in Saskatchewan. The waiting list is long and with this facility closed at this time — there's people that are suffering," Henley said.
"When you have a person who admits they need help, they need help now. They don't need help six months down the road."
Henley said opposition to the centre seems discriminatory, rooted in stigma.
"It's troubling because it's like 'not in my backyard,'" she said. "Addiction does not pick who is addicted. It could be your neighbour. It could be a family member that would need some help."
Council says decision hinges on zoning definition
Village councillors said in a written statement that the decision hinges on a definition within the zoning bylaw.
Mayor Steve Helfrick and councillors Valerie Hamilton, John Naumetz, Brad Redman and Don Williams wrote that council has "been portrayed in the media as being against Pine Lodge establishing operations in the village. This is not an accurate portrayal."
"Specifically, Council is being asked to decide whether a substance abuse treatment centre fits into the definition of a 'Residential Care Facility' as defined in the Resort Village of Fort San Zoning Bylaw."
Councillors also theorized about what ifs, asking what would happen if Pine Lodge were to return to Indian Head.
"Council has no assurances that another substance abuse treatment centre would be operated as well as Pine Lodge or have a similar reputation in the community."
Monson said representatives of Pine Lodge are meeting with council on Tuesday.
"They're a small council, They're a small village and there are people who have strong opinions," he said. "I think they're trying to be fair to both us and to their ratepayers, and we're just hopeful that at the end of the day they see our position for what it is.
The leadership of the File Hills Qu'Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) and Leading Thunderbird Lodge (LTL) recently issued a statement in support of the relocation. The lodge provides culturally-based residential treatment program for First Nations and Inuit male youth. Community consultations took place before its opening in 2007.
The statement said anxieties that emerged in those consultations were similar to what is being heard now.
"We have proven time and again that a treatment facility cannot only co-exist, but thrive in the community of Fort San with absolute minimal negative impact, and much greater positive contributions," said FHQTC Tribal Chief & CEO Edmund Bellegarde.
Monson said the facility would consider appealing the decision if the council rejects the relocation.
A decision is expected March 16.