Paul de Koning (left) and Wayne Massey stand in the commercial grade kitchen at the new Ruth and Naomi's building.

More funding needed to realize Chilliwack housing dream

Ruth & Naomi’s reps say they're short an estimated $400,000 to finish the upstairs section of the new building.

Construction on the new Ruth & Naomi’s Mission building in downtown Chilliwack is a few weeks away from completion.

The $1-million project is an expansion of the services offered by the mission, with the plan to offer transitional housing spaces for up to 24 residents.

About 100 to 130 street people arrive at Ruth & Naomi’s Mission on Fletcher Street every day to be fed. That’s down from the maximum of 150 per day they were feeding a while back, but officials are eager to get on with the long-awaited housing component.

About half the Ruth & Naomi’s project value has come from donated materials and labour to date by 80 members of the Chilliwack construction trade, said Paul de Koning, a project manager and board director.

But it is now clear they are going to be short an estimated $400,000 to finish the upstairs section of the new building.

The shortfall means they will need to raise more operational funding, including an estimated $15,000 per unit in the eight-room section, either from government funding or donations, as well as $150,000 to furnish the now-empty units and computer room.

“We have not approached the province for any funding at this point, but the board sees that is going to be necessary,” said board chair Wayne Massey.

They have to furnish and staff the transitional housing component they’ve been promising.

A commercial-grade kitchen, spacious dining hall and washroom facilities are now in place on the main floor of the new building, as are the residential units upstairs in the 8000-square foot building.

Project proponents thought initially they were going to be able to finish the downstairs portion first and get their occupancy permit right away. But city officials notified them that the upper portion would have to be completed, staffed and operational as well before the permit would be issued.

“We misunderstood and thought we could separate the components,” he noted.

Part of the current financial crunch was caused by “moving goalposts” in terms of provincial environmental cleanup standards which changed in recent years, Massey said.

Plans and design for the new building were ready to go several years ago. But the former dry cleaners’ site had to be environmentally remediated first at a cost of $350,000, the board chair said.

“It was an unexpected setback,” he said.

Underground contamination is a common obstacle to growth in the downtown, which has stymied redevelopment efforts, along with the struggling economy.

To help them cover some of the outstanding costs, Ruth & Naomi’s Mission is also launching an “adopt-a-room” fundraiser with the aim of raising the $15,000 costs to outfit each of the suites, he said.

“We’re so proud of the citizens, churches and businesses that have stepped forward to help so far. That’s what makes this project unique and different.”

But unfortunately they’re not quite there yet.

“It’s been made clear to us that we will now need some major funding to take us to the next level,” said Massey. “The need is too far-reaching and we’re going to need some government assistance.”

On a typical day, about 15 to 20 people stay overnight at Ruth & Naomi’s, for which the mission receives absolutely no subsidy.

“We have successfully managed to get several people off the street and into apartments. Some found employment. We just need to finish what we’ve started,” Massey said.

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