Langley Ishtar revamp closes transition house

The first transition house to open in North America is closing its doors as Langley’s Ishtar Transition Housing Society makes drastic changes.

Ishtar’s leadership said it’s because the province has made the houses take in the addicted and mentally ill, creating more violence and confict.

“In the past year alone we have had a murder of a single mother in one house followed by a drug overdose death of a pregnant woman and increasing incidents of violence and/or threats of violence,” acting operations manager Pat Romanin said.

The society has the 10-bed Libra House in Aldergrove and the 12-bed Ishtar House in Langley City with its offices in the Canada Bread building in Willowbrook.

All operations will be consolidated into Ishtar House, which is 50 per cent owned by the society and 50 per cent by BC Housing.

Ishtar, started in the 1970s, is closing Libra House Jan. 31.

The BCGEU sent out a press release Nov. 25 condemning the changes.

“The closures will mean the layoff of 32 BCGEU members,” the BCGEU said.

But Ishtar management said the layoffs will be 10 full-time staff, 11 part-time staff, and 14 casual staff who work an average of eight hours per week.

That will leave four full time staff, four part time and contractors. Romanin said there will be new positions as the society revamps, opportunties for those laid off staff.

The union representing society staff claimed that Libra was 93 per cent occupancy last month.

“Our occupancy has consistently been between zero and 30 per cent,” Romanin countered.

The BCGEU figures include all categories of users including addicts and the mentally ill, not just the women needing transition housing.

Romanin noted that most residents of the two houses are typically no longer from Langley.

Quietly in recent years the provincial government changed things, calling it lowering barriers to housing.

What it meant for Ishtar is that transition houses, created to provide safe places for women and children fleeing domestic violence, had those women and children living in the same houses as people with addictions and mental illness.

Romanin said the board decided to revamp before staff get hurt and that staff are not trained to deal with addictions and mental illness.

Ishtar’s board decided to return to the focus of helping women and will move all operations into Ishtar House, in Langley City. Romanin said the site will also have space for transition housing.

“No one is going to be put at the curb,” she commented.

It’s too soon to know but the change of focus will likely mean a hit in government funding which Romanin said hasn’t increased in several years despite the added responsibilities. BC Housing owns Libra House and will decide the fate of that property.

When transition houses were first created, their location was kept low key, a move thought to keep the women and children safer.

Romanin said that attitudes and laws related to domestic violence have changed significantly.

“That’s really an outdated ideology,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to hide them away.”

She said it’s too soon to say which programs and services will be kept.

Romanin said the changes will be taking place over several weeks and months as there are labour rules in play and significant changes for Ishtar’s services and programs. Ishtar, for example, had to give BC Housing 120 days notice of the changes that affect it.

“We just gave notice,” she explained. “Nothing is really going to change before April 1.”

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