Making Room for Bruce Oake

Residents have mixed feelings toward proposed recovery centre location

“Sentiment is changing.”

This is how Scott Oake, co-founder of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, describes citizens’ reactions to the building of the new complex.

The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre is described as a “long-term, residential treatment centre” on the centre’s website. Clients must be male, and they have the opportunity to stay up to three years. The City of Winnipeg has proposed that the rehabilitation site inhabit the old Vimy Arena, located in the St. James constituency.

Oake’s son Bruce, who the centre is named after, struggled with addiction. In 2011, Bruce died from a heroin overdose.

“Bruce had the best year of his addicted life in a one-year rehabilitation program,” Oake observes. “If he were in there for two, we say that he’d still be alive.”

By building the recovery centre, Oake hopes to prevent others from experiencing a similar fate.

Although nothing is official, there has been much debate over the centre’s construction, and many residents of the St. James region have voiced concerns about the project. According to CBC News, a meeting was held in Sturgeon Heights Community Centre in early December. The gathering addressed citizens’ questions, and over 200 people attended.

“Residents didn’t have enough information,” Oake says of the community’s initial opposition and queries.

Oake states that many locals were against the idea of drug addicts entering their neighbourhood, but some people changed their minds after learning that the complex will house recovering addicts – those who wish to get better.

“Active addiction is not pretty, but recovery is completely different. Addicts in recovery are focused on sobriety – it’s a beautiful thing,” Oake says.

Winnipeggers have been showing support for the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre by sending donations, normally in sums of $25 to $50. So far, these donations, which Oake calls “grassroots,” have amounted to $35,000.

“(The donations) show the will of the community,” Oake says.

However, many St. James residents still oppose the proposed conversion of the old arena into the recovery centre.

“People are mad at the lack of transparency from city hall and the provincial government,” Assiniboia MLA Steven Fletcher says.

He says that city plans concerning the rehabilitation centre have been kept secret, and some locals feel as though they’ve been left in the dark.

“The voice of the people matters … People want to be consulted,” Fletcher says. He adds that officials have not looked for the best place to put Bruce Oake Recovery Centre.

“A massive public awareness of green space exists in St. James,” Fletcher states. “St. James is already underrepresented in green spaces, and the community wants to keep the green space.”

He adds that Vimy Arena must be rezoned in order for the province to take control of the land. Oake also mentions that rezoning is required to transform the arena into a rehabilitation site. This wouldn’t be necessary if the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre was built in a location already zoned for the same purpose.

Fletcher adds that the old Shriners hospital and Misericordia Hospital are better suited to house the recovery centre.

The decision to transform Vimy Arena into the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre hinges on a city council vote. Oake says he hopes the vote will be on the January docket; rezoning processes can begin if the vote passes.

While people have mixed feelings on the potential transformation of Vimy Arena into the rehabilitation centre, one thing is clear, Fletcher says.

“The intentions of Bruce Oake Recovery Centre are very good.”

Published in Volume 72, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 11, 2018)

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