Two business owners spoke out publicly against the location of the new supportive housing project going in at the old Traders Inn site on Yale Road.
After a robust discussion at the public hearing Tuesday night, where advantages of providing housing for the homeless with support services came up, as well as concerns, city council unanimously approved the rezoning bylaw.
There was clear support for the 46-unit housing project itself, and the Housing First concept, but concerns were raised during the public hearing about the potential for security issues, drug paraphernalia, visitors, crime, and more.
Todd Hiebert, who built the Edward Crossing development right across Yale Road from the housing, said he was worried that the proximity to his development would mean residents of the facility would “leave a trail of ruin and garbage.”
“I don’t mean to be harsh, but I’ve dealt a lot with this. I don’t think the location is a step forward for Chilliwack,” Hiebert said.
He said he hopes there will be 24-hour security on-site, not just the facility staff members on duty.
Stan Kuperis, director of mental health and substance use services for Fraser Health, touched on how the new Intensive Case Management (ICM) team would work out of the facility to be operated by Rain City Housing.
The ICM team will provide “boots on the ground” support to the residents. They will be on duty seven days a week, 12 hours a day, reaching out to the residents who were once homeless or at risk of homelessness, and “moving them toward services” once they are stable.
“It’s a real bonus for Chilliwack to get this,” Kuperis said.
David Van Dongen of Mr. Lube Chilliwack said he “agreed with the project” but took issue with the fact that these types of services were all being centralized in the downtown core.
“If crime goes up, how do I deal with that? It’s a cost to my business,” Van Dongen said.
He is worried about residents who might access the rear of his property to hang out, commit crime, or leave their drug paraphernalia, since some will likely be drug users. He wanted to know who is responsible for them once they leave the property.
“Security was my biggest thing,” he said.
A Good Neighbour Agreement will be in place to address and prevent some of the problems that were discussed. The $9-million modular housing facility will not be a shelter, but rather more like an apartment building with in-house support services. Each resident will have their own bathroom and kitchen facilities.
Downtown resident Coletta Holmes said she disagreed with the previous speakers who complained about the location, since that is where the services were needed, and where street people were often seen in “clusters.”
“To have boots on the ground, to cover all those locations, is a real plus.”
BC Housing official Naomi Brunemeyer responded to some of the issues raised at the rezoning hearing.
“Regarding the location, BC Housing strategically purchased this property in the downtown,” Brunemeyer said, adding that there is ample opportunity for oversight by staff, and “checking in” with residents as they come and go.
She cautioned against “criminalizing” the vulnerable residents.
“There will be one point of entry to the building, which means everyone going in and out walks by staff,” Brunemeyer said.
Council approved third reading of the zoning bylaw for the property at 45944 Yale Road. It will be rezoned from a CS2 (Tourist Commercial) Zone to an R9 (Supportive Housing and Health Contact Centre) Zone, but is being held at third reading, pending approval of all related documentation.
Coun. Sam Waddington told the business owners, “I heard you loud and clear,” since he had suffered incidents of property crime at his place of business, and also lives downtown.
“I believe this is the solution, not the problem,” Waddington said.
Coun. Sue Attrill asked business owner Hiebert if he was willing to sit on the advisory committee with his neighbours, and he said that yes, he would.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz said the project was “a long time in coming” for Chilliwack, and thanked everyone who made it happen.
“It is urgent for our community,” Gaetz said. “A project of this magnitude will be very well appreciated.”
She called it a “good day for Chilliwack” and acknowledged the efforts by the operator to deal with all the security fears.
“Many in our community have felt they were under siege,” Mayor Gaetz said, referring to those who show no respect for private property, or steal to support their habit.
“But these people need a hand up, not a handout, and that all starts with a roof over their heads.”
Coun. Attrill called the project the culmination of “many years of praying, begging and lobbying.”
“One day we will wake up and there will be no more homelessness. In the meantime, this is a great step forward,” she said.
Coun. Ken Popove said he was convinced it will make a difference for Chilliwack.
“This is the next layer, and we’ve been advocating for this,” he said.
Coun. Jason Lum said it was “wise” to establish an community advisory committee.
“Projects like this don’t work without buy-in or collaboration of the neighbourhood.”
Coun. Sam Waddington called Housing First the “best model” on the planet.
“Housing has to come first. It’s the best chance we can give them, and the community has a role to play.”
The Chilliwack project is part of a provincewide investment of $291 million to build 2,000 homes around the province and more than $170 million over three years to provide 24/7 staffing and support services. Through this effort, 1,300 new homes are under construction for those most in need.
Scheduled completion of the Chilliwack facility is slated for 2019.