Another expansion of Ruth and Naomi’s Mission means homeless women as well as men will be able to get off the streets of downtown Chilliwack into a safe, warm place this winter.
Premier Christy Clark toured the second floor of the existing facility, which will eventually house the female clientele, flanked by B.C. Liberal hopefuls Laurie Throneness and John Martin, on Friday afternoon.
Clark made a brief speech inside the dining hall as heavy equipment dug up a concrete pad on the adjacent property to prepare it for the next expansion of Ruth and Naomi’s services.
She told the small crowd she could see “God’s hands at work” in Chilliwack.
“Chilliwack is a special, special place, largely because of that,” Clark said, adding it could be seen “in particular” at Ruth & Naomi’s Mission.
She was invited to tour the facility on Margaret Avenue and hear about the new program expansion, saying provincial reps were pleased to be “a financial supporter” of the mission’s work, Clark said.
“The act of giving is one of the most profoundly important acts we can make,” she said.
She told mission supporters, staff and volunteers, that they “made a difference” adding that people give of themselves “because helping is the right thing to do,” and because it feels good.
The premier acknowledged the diligent work of Chilliwack MLA John Les, who couldn’t attend that day.
“John worked incredibly hard to make sure that we were supporting; that we in Victoria knew about the need here,” adding that the B.C. Liberal candidates for Chilliwack in the upcoming election “will do just as good a job advocating on behalf of those in need. How proud we are.”
Les arrived with a cheque from the province for $387,000 for Ruth and Naomi’s at the facility opening last February, to offset costs associated with the environmental remediation before construction started.
The premier joked that’s why Les was not there on Friday because it might cost them another cheque.
Transitional housing in the Step Up program is being provided, in addition to the services already offered like emergency shelter, food and clothes in the drop-in street operations program.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” said Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth and Naomi’s Mission.
Mission board officials were considering buying the yellow house in Rosedale, known as the Mercer house, for the expansion but when they looked at the costs, they found it was too expensive.
The $238,000 property on Princess Avenue that was recently purchased, was a result of intensive fundraising effort over Christmas by mission supporters that netted $110,000 toward the expansion. The new property has an existing house on it which will be converted into residential housing services for their male clientele.
As a result, up to 20 women could be moving in to a unit on the second floor by Feb. 15, said Raddatz, adding “and that’s awesome.”
In fact, intake has already begun for the female residents, and they already have six to eight applications, according to John Gray, the mission’s Step Up and supportive housing director.
Turns out need for this housing is even greater for women than it is for men in Chilliwack, he said, but it is not clear why.
“The premier was asking that question,” said Gray. “I don’t have a response to that. I don’t know what it is that is triggering that phenomenon.”
They conducted a little investigation in September by checking with other Chilliwack service providers to find out who was being attracted to their services, he said, such as the needle exchange by Pacific Community Resources Society.
“More women were accessing the services than men,” he said. “More women are couch surfing and going from place to place.”
It’s sometimes harder for women with children to access services.
“We began to realize if we were going to take full advantage of the facility here, it would be better to create it as a women’s facility.”
One of the rooms upstairs is also being converted into a nursery for residents with children.
Residents will have a safe, warm place to get off the streets, for them to get their lives together, detox, get some nutrition, support, life skills training, counselling, as well as a space to access and spend time with their kids.
People in the program can stay up to 24 months.
“Ideally we’d like them to stay 24 months but we recognize that most people coming to access these services can’t think about next week sometimes, let alone next year,” he said. “If after a month they can’t handle it, that’s okay. It’s not a jail.”
They have noticed with the men they’ve worked with so far, if they manage to stay a full six to eight months, it works better.
“We take the longer term view, and we say let’s do it in cooperation. We tell people, ‘we’re not here to tell you how to live your life.’”