Neighbours at a public hearing Tuesday brought up a range of concerns about the latest supportive housing project going ahead on Trethewey Avenue.
The 46-unit project site is the second one purchased by BC Housing to house the homeless, to be run by RainCity Housing with Fraser Health, in addition to the 46-unit project on Yale Road on the former Traders Inn Site.
READ MORE: Another modular housing project approved
The first speaker wanted to know “who would be cleaning up all the garbage” that would likely continue to be dumped in the alley on that street.
Another said he didn’t think it was the right location, and wondered if officials had been “diligent” enough in searching out the best site.
READ MORE: Project at Old Traders Inn site
There are too many “modular housing shelters” going up on the north side of Chilliwack, said Marko Jalava, and maybe it wasn’t the best location despite being what was available.
He asked why there seemed to be such “urgency” now to get this latest project approved.
Jalava later said his biggest concern was the “freedom” that these supportive housing tenants would be given in a low-barrier facility, like the freedom to do their drugs in the units, to have guests, and pets, and getting access to a safe injection site.
He told council if they did not view it as the absolute “best site” then they should vote against the rezoning.
Naomi Brunemeyer, director of development for BC Housing, took the podium to answer all questions about the project, including why the urgency for it.
The rush to get the project going stems from the needs of 221 people who self-identified as homeless in the last homeless count in Chilliwack, she said, which is an increase of 203 per cent from the last count in 2014.
“There’s a rush, since we know the longer they stay outside, the harder it is to bring them inside,” she said. “We’ve reached an epidemic in this community, and in the surrounding ones. That is what the rush is.”
READ MORE: Rezoning passes after robust discussion
Last September the Province of B.C. rolled out the Rapid Response to Homelessness program with bold plans to erect modular housing with supports all across B.C. A real estate team works with communities to find ideal locations for permanent housing.
“We don’t use the term barrier-free or low-barrier anymore,” Brunemeyer said, adding they are now calling it “housing with high support.”
They use a vulnerability assessment tool to assess individuals, they will be assessed and vetted. The tenants will all have a connection to Chilliwack, and be homeless or at risk of it.
“Most importantly these are the people who most need help,” she said.
While it may seem “barrier-free” in fact they stress an approach to “work where people are at” and that means first bringing them indoors. A specialized ICM team will work with tenants during daily visits.
“You can’t do that with barriers (sobriety requirement), so yes we will continue to let them use drugs. In cases where there is only housing provided, we’ve seen how that works, with 221 people still homeless. So we are bringing them indoors and there will be a safe consumption area, so we have a sight line, and staff can watch so they don’t overdose alone in their rooms. They can use clean needles and use inside.”
Part of it is so the tenants aren’t outside “using puddle water” to mix with their IV drugs.
They will be working on a guest policy for tenants but they will be welcomed.
“Isolation is a huge problem,” she said, so they’ll encourage the tenants to build bonds and friendships.
“We also don’t feel curfews are the way to go,” and feel that is the best way, and added pets will be allowed in the units.
“Lots of people who have pets don’t come inside,” she said, since most facilities don’t allow them. “Pets are exactly what people need, it’s a loving, healing thing to have a pet, and to be able to come home to it.”
Council had praise for the project and approved it unanimously.
“I believe we cannot wait,” said Coun. Chris Kloot. “We’ll never find a perfect location. We have been advocating non-stop for more shelters, and more services, and I am glad to see this substantial focus on Chilliwack by BC Housing and the provincial government.”
Coun. Sue Attrill said Trethewey is actually a good location.
“We are in dire need, so this will make things better for the neighbourhood,” Attrill said.
Coun. Jason Lum reminded everyone that these projects don’t work unless they come with the “wrap-around” services committed to the project.
“There’s one more so stay tuned,” Lum noted.
Coun. Sam Waddington said he’s not excited that council has to approve these types of housing projects.
“But the situation is so incredibly dire that this is the lengths we have go to preserve the safety of the community and the individuals who will live there,” he said. “These are not bad people, just folks for whom life has thrown a curveball.”
Coun. Ken Popove remarked that the two housing projects with 24/7 supports are going to make a “marked difference in our community,” and thanked those who helped expedite the project.
“I could not be happier,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz, offering “huge” thank-yous to BC Housing and Fraser Health, and Premier John Horgan for his broad “vision” in wanting to end homelessness.
“I say it is a perfect location,” Gaetz said, adding what makes her most happy is the ample support services to be offered tenants who may have mental health, addiction and trauma issues.
“Winter is coming so I want to get this project up as soon as we can. And to those doubters, I say, I get it, the skepticism. But I think ‘Housing First’ does work and that is why we are going forward with an action plan to tackle homelessness.”
It’s not the end of the story, but instead one that offers “new purpose and new hope” to those who had none.
“We are going to get this thing licked,” Gaetz concluded.