Support Survivor Fight for Laurel House in B.C

September  16, 2007

Hi Rob,
Many thanks for sending this very disturbing information re brother and sister survivors threatened with eviction from Laurel House in Victoria, B.C. Absolutely disgraceful, unjust and probably unlawful! Please copy and forward my letter below to other individuals and organizations you believe are interested in offering support. Please send any more info you have. Thanks again.

September 16, 2007
Letter to All Psychiatric Survivors and Supporters at Laurel House:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I totally support your right and courageous fight to remain in Laurel house. It is your human right to live and associate with whomever you wish, to give each other emotional, social, and personal support on your own terms. You are living and standing up for self-help or peer-support, which you undoubtedly know is infinitely more humane and effective than any “mental health” or psychiatric “treatment”, and an essential alternative to the oppressive psychiatric system. I also totally support and respect your right to resist any move by the CMHA and the B.C. government to evict you. If this threatened eviction is not unlawful, it certainly is harassment, it’s also disrespectful, insensitive, and inhumane. Like the psychiatrists, the CMHA and B.C. government officials believe psychiatric survivors like yourselves can be manipulated, patronized, and pushed around which is what they’re trying to do. Tell them, HELL NO, WE WON’T GO. STAND UP AND FIGHT.

This is a crisis situation and violation of your human rights–an assault on your right to autonomy, an assault on your right to make your own decisions, an assault on your right to live wherever you wish, an assault on your right to control your own lives. I support your struggle and urge many other psychiatric survivors, antipsychiatry activists, and human rights advocates who may read  this to support your right to occupy and live in Laurel House.
in solidarity,
Don Weitz
antipsychiatry activist, co-founder of Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault

MindFreedom International

I’ve become really busy involved very directly, personally, helping with this action, but I just thought all of you should know that something special is happening in Victoria right now and it would be nice if perhaps you could show your support by writing letters to the local newspaper (see link below) or others, as the CBC, the Canadian Press and others have also begun to cover it nationally. Or send complaints to the national CMHA office for not doing anything to stop the closure of Laurel House in Victoria.

A group of consumer/survivors have banded together to defend what was essentially a half-client-run, half-system-run drop-in, totally voluntary hang-out, skills, training, rec and support centre for people who’ve been in the mental health system. It was basically just a wonderful home where people could hang out together and give peer-support, with a few staff on hand who’d been there for many years and developed really positive, non-coercive relationships with everyone. The CMHA and some gov’t bureaucrats just made the decision to close it without consulting anyone else. The users have been extraordinarily united and tenacious, and they have now occupied the building and are refusing to leave. Aside from keeping the place open, their main demand is that users of the mental health system be given a more meaningful role in decision-making in the mental health system here. The gov’t is, as you’ll see below, after 3 months of a very pitched battle, finally starting to show some signs of willingness to negotiate.

Here’s a link to my own earlier article about it:

And here’s the latest breaking news as of yesterday.

If any of you just want to send personal letters of support to the consumer/survivors, just send them to me and I’ll be happy to take them in to them. They are very excited to think their actions might influence or inspire others elsewhere in the country.


Laurel House wins temporary reprieve
Clients staging a sit-in aren’t sure the offer is enough. They’ll make a decision on Monday

Judith Lavoie
Times Colonist

Saturday, September 15, 2007

CREDIT: Darren Stone, Times Colonist
Clients at Laurel House on Elford Street plan to stay put for the next few days. One of their demands is that a psychiatric nurse on staff for eight years keep his job.

Laurel House has received a temporary reprieve from Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Capital Mental Health Association.

VIHA and the Capital Mental Health Association offered yesterday to hold consultations and keep the facility open for three months. But clients of the Elford Street drop-in centre for mentally ill people who are staging a sit-in at the house are not sure the offer is enough to satisfy their demands.

Kathleen Sumilas, speaking for the half-dozen people occupying the house, said they will stay put for the weekend and make a decision on Monday.

“They have taken several months to negotiate with us,” she said. “So we’re going to consult with members. . . We’re not making any hasty decisions.”

After months of protests about yesterday’s planned closure, VIHA chief operating officer Mike Conroy said there will be a delay in moving programs from Laurel House to CMHA headquarters on Skinner Street. The delay will allow for more consultation with clients, he said.

“It is clear that, despite the best efforts of the Capital Mental Health Association, some of the remaining clients at Laurel House continue to have concerns about the future of the services they’ve grown to depend on,” Conroy said.

Kelly Reid, VIHA manager of mental health and addictions residential services, will oversee a three-month consultation process with Laurel House clients and their families. He will also oversee replacement programs at the Skinner Street location.

Reid will then report to VIHA on any changes he believes necessary.

“It may happen that we learn some information that we didn’t have before. We may find we are missing things in the new program or maybe there are some options with the Laurel House site that people can come up with,” Reid said.

VIHA is enthusiastic about the new programming, but consultations may better explain the importance of a safe, welcoming environment where there is no pressure, he said.

“This is the opposite outcome than anyone at VIHA or the CMHA ever wanted. To be in a situation where there is such stress and anxiety is very counter-productive. We knew we had to pause and re-evaluate things.”

No effort will be made to move protesters out of Laurel House over the weekend, but there are concerns, Reid said.

“We don’t know who’s living in the house and there are liability concerns, but the last thing we want is more confrontation,” he said.

One of the demands made by the clients was that psychiatric nurse Terry Miller, program co-ordinator at Laurel House for eight years, retain his job. Miller, 55, is still slated to lose his job Sept. 30.

“An organization like ours is always stretched for resources and we think an occupational therapist is the way we want to head for the new program,” said Liam McEnery, CMHA executive director.

Laurel House is not a medical program, so the need for a psychiatric nurse is limited while an occupational therapist can help people with goals, life skills and functioning in the community, McEnery said.

During the next three months funding for Laurel House will go into the new programs, which means Laurel House will be operating with reduced staff, McEnery said.

Meal programs will continue and so will the socialization programs, he said.

Miller said it is upsetting to walk away from his clients.

“To say I am feeling a little bad is an understatement,” he said. “The reason Laurel House works is it’s real people helping each other. It’s a therapeutic community which speaks to the quality of life.”

Rob Fleming, Victoria-Hillside MLA, said the temporary reprieve allows the consultations that should have occurred in the first place. “I think it was a rushed and top-down approach,” he said.

“When you do make changes, you want to get them right. Especially when it comes to mental health services, it is critical that the users of those services are part of the decision-making.”


1 comment so far

  1. Valerie Gee on

    IS there any inter-provincial transfer of psychiatric patients from another province happening anymore between Alberta and B.C. so the patient can be close to family members?

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