The Dr. Peter Centre in the West End

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The Dr. Peter Centre (DPC) is located on the corner of the Mole Hill Community Housing block. The block of renovated heritage houses consists of 178 units and is home to 300 tenants with mixed income levels. In the alley between the heritage homes is a community garden with 70 plots. On Comox St. on the Western edge of the block of Mole Hill is a Farmers Market every Saturday morning in the summer where residents from all over the West End shop for organic products. Further West on Comox St. is the YMCA Mole Hill Day Care. Across from Comox St. is Nelson Park with an elementary school, dogpark, playground for kids, community garden plots and just places to sit and relax.

Dr. Peter Centre

Situated in a densely populate residential neighbourhood, the Dr. Peter Centre is a community health service provides that is located in a vibrant community. Participants of the DPC arrive in the West End from all over the city of Vancouver. The Centre has two streams of care: One for inpatient residents and another for outpatients. The participants of the day health program come to the DPC for food, medical services and programs. As part of the medical health services that the Dr. Peter Centre provide there is a needle exchange and a safe consumption room attended by a nurse.

The participants of the programs at the Dr. Peter Centre represent some of the most vulnerable populations in Vancouver; people struggling with poverty, drug addiction, mental illness and living with HIV in some combination. These folks often experience a lot of chaos and uncertainty in their lives. Yet this chaos does not spill over into the community. This success is largely attributable to the Dr. Peter Centre, which is able to provide compassionate care to its participants while being well respected and integrated into the neighbourhood.

While many communities would be reluctant to view the addition of a service provider like the Dr. Peter Centre as being much need capacity to deal with an issue, the Dr. Peter Centre is a much respected and valued member of the West End Community.
How has the Dr. Peter Centre been able to work with high-need patients while mitigating any negative impacts on the surrounding neighbourhood?

Maxine Davis the Executive Director of the DPC attributes its success to three factors: The design of its programs and services; the design of the building and its efforts to be a member of a community.

The DPC programs

The programs of the DPC bring much needed capacity to the West End community. The DPC is one of a host of needle exchanges in the Downtown Peninsula. This harm reduction measure helps to ensure that used needles are not littering the community’s streets and parks. There is also a great effort made with regard to the participant’s engagement with programs being developed for folks, such as art and music programs.

In many discourses around safety and security there is an attempt to construct folks struggling with addictions, mental illness, and living with HIV as some how not part of the community. However, there is a growing awareness that addiction and mental illness are in every community and every community needs to have a capacity to deal with these issues. As a city we can keep displacing and ghettoizing communities problems to other neighborhoods.

With regard to health care services around addiction and mental illness we are currently on a third wave of thinking on our approach to this issue. The first wave would be creating large institutions to house folks with mental health issues in. The second wave was the deinstitutionalization folks into the community without the supportive systems in place. Now the third wave is a community-based model where each community is going to need to have capacity to deal with different sets of issue. The folks that were caught in the move to deinstitutionalize need to be engaged and brought back from the streets into communities. Each community needs supportive housing, youth and aging support in place services to name only a few.

The design of the building

The DPC building design is constructed in a manner that facilitates the entry into its large foyer allowing folks to congregate and socialize in this area. There are also areas in the building that allow participants to enjoy outdoor space, but within the security of the building. Another remarkable feature of DPC is in its deliberate choice not to employ active security forces, but rather trying to embed security features passively into the design. Entry and exit of the building is only through the front doors.

Integration into the community: always be proactive

The lives of the participants of the DPC can be chaotic. Folks struggling with living with HIV, addiction, mental health issues and poverty can be perceived harshly by folks who don’t have a sense of their ordeal. To communicate the mission of the DPC to the community and enlist its support has been a critical factor in its success. DPC is situated in a densely populated residential neighbourhood. Having good relations with its nieghbours is critically important. Being a good neighbor is more than just telling your own story, but also means listening to other community members concerns. The DPC has played a big role in the West End through participating in the community processes around the redevelopment of Nelson Park, writing letters support for community projects and helping to build other capacity in the community to make it better.

“The energy of me will not be lost”

On the steps entering the DPC is words of the doctor whose vision the place is built on: “The energy that is me will not be lost”. Dr. Peter’s energy is a huge legacy. The success of the DPC is apparent as soon as one walks in the door, but what are the lesson that have been learned and can the model be replicated?

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