City of Chilliwack staff in high-vis overalls interact with some of the homeless people sleeping downtown during a cleanup of the Five Corners Park area.

City of Chilliwack staff in high-vis overalls interact with some of the homeless people sleeping downtown during a cleanup of the Five Corners Park area.

Chilliwack MLAs ask for help dealing with surge in homeless population

Local Sally Ann could add 30 emergency shelter spaces into the mix by putting mats down in their Chilliwack soup kitchen

MLAs from Chilliwack are set to meet with BC Housing reps Wednesday to ask for emergency help to deal with Chilliwack’s growing homelessness crisis.

Chilliwack-Hope MLA Laurie Throness called the rapid increase of homeless people moving into Chilliwack a “disturbing trend.”

But Chilliwack is not alone in seeing a recent surge in street populations.

“I can tell you other MLAs are facing these same challenges,” Throness said.

He noted the City of Chilliwack had done a good job dealing with the increase in homeless numbers, and all the impacts on the community.

“I want to say the city has done a marvellous job of coping with this, and and we’re going to help in any way we can,” he said.

Estimates are that the homeless population has grown to 300 or 400 people.

“That’s a lot of people. Chilliwack deserves attention just like Victoria or Vancouver.”

A province-wide plan on affordable housing is expected shortly, with details on rent subsidies, and low income housing funds.

In the mean time the MLA said he has fielded calls from constituents who live near public parks in Chilliwack who say they are particularly concerned about homeless staying overnight in parks.

“We are very well aware of this problem,” he said. “People all across Chilliwack are concerned.”

Several B.C. cities have followed recent provincial case law and changed their bylaws accordingly to remove bans and allow homeless camping in parks when there are no shelter beds available.

One of the uses for any emergency funding secured for Chilliwack could be for beds at the local Sally Ann, or other shelters.

Tim Bohr, community ministries director of Chilliwack Salvation Army, said they are prepared to add 30 emergency shelter spaces into the mix by putting mats down in the soup kitchen dining room to create temporary beds for the homeless.

“I can confirm this is something we can do. We have offered to open our facility on an interim emergency basis, pending officials securing the necessary funding to do so,” said Bohr.

The shelter beds would be available from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next morning.

“Other communities have received temporary funding for this purpose,” he said, citing Abbotsford and Maple Ridge. “So there is precedent.”

Typically they don’t have any vacancies at the shelter, he said.

There’s a long-term problem of affordable housing, as well as a critical, short-term need for emergency shelter beds. Throness said the Province has invested considerable funds in Chilliwack, the MLA said, citing more than $5.1 million in 2014-15 for subsidized housing and rent supplements for 1,300+ households in Chilliwack, along with $1.4 million in federal contributions.

They funded 217 homeless spaces in shelters, housing units and through rent supplements.

That figure includes support for more than 660 senior households and about 390 families. There was $1.6 million spent on emergency shelter and housing for the homeless, and another $1.6 million on “transitional supportive & assisted living.”

MLA Throness said he and Chilliwack MLA John Martin have a meeting set with BC Housing officials Wednesday to request funding assistance on an emergency basis for Chilliwack and Hope.

There are also three projects currently “in the pipeline” for Chilliwack requesting funding approval for a total of 150 low-income housing spaces, said Throness.

“We are hoping they will be approved,” he said. “We’ll be making the case that we deserve attention in Chilliwack.”

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