A small group of protesters unhappy with the location of The Portal homeless shelter stood on Yale Road sidewalk waving signs at passersby on Tuesday.
“Addiction, drugs and schools don’t mix,” one of the signs said.
Tina Ortutay, who lives in a building next to Chilliwack secondary was adamant that she is not “against” homeless people.
|A small protest was held to oppose the three-year shelter extension for the The Portal as school kids pass by on Yale Road. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)|
“What I want people to understand this is not an us-versus-them, and this is not a ‘we hate homeless people’ thing,” Ortutay said. “It’s the criminal element attracted to this place, and that there are literally thousands of children who go to these schools who are forced to endure walking past this; seeing overdoses; seeing people tweaking out; seeing people with needles in their arms.”
Opponents say the Portal location, which is facing renewal in the form of a three-year temporary use permit, is not suitable, and some had planned to also attend the info meeting at RAN on Oct. 3.
“I think this area has to be protected,” Ortutay said, adding that particularly for kids from low-income homes, “school is their safety net” and they shouldn’t be bombarded by street scenes with drug addicts.
“I understand they are doing good work (at the Portal). But I don’t think they are doing enough to keep the area protected.”
Meanwhile down the street at The Portal, some of the folks who stay there were handing out hot chocolate, sweets, and coffee to those passing by.
“We’re doing this to open up a conversation with people,” one of the shelter residents said.
RAN officials have tried to make it clear there are no other suitable locations for this purpose.
Some of the signs at the Portal read: “We are people too” and “Housing is a human right.”
Another one read: “I graduated from your high school.”
Portal manager Cory Buettner commented on a social media post that he feels blessed to work in Chilliwack, after some of the shelter guests responded to the opposition with a big dose of kindness.
“We heard that some folks were protesting the TUP (temporary use permit) of the Portal and some of our guests and staff asked if we could respond by serving hot chocolate, snacks and even some coffee for parents, as they walked their kids home from school,” Buettner posted. “So blessed to work in this community.
“The first young man that came by said ‘I can’t, those are for people in need that stay here.’ Their response was, ‘We are the ones staying here, and it’s our gift to you.’”
Christopher Hunt, member of the group Chilliwack Citizens for Change, went on a tour of the Portal on Tuesday after posting that he found the comments about the shelter residents “dehumanizing” and “punitive.”
A public meeting set for Oct. 3 at the RAN Family Centre is to hear feedback and offer details about the BC Housing proposal to extend the shelter’s temporary use permit for (TUP) three years. A Change.org petition titled ‘Let’s take back DT Chilliwack to make students safe again’ with more than 3,000 names is asking city officials not to approve the permit.
“One thing that is obvious, though, is that most people are reacting out of fear, perception, personal beliefs, or disgust without looking for facts about the actual shelter,” Hunt wrote about those opposed.
Unfortunately, Hunt said, very few of those complaining are making the effort to visit the shelter, talk to staff, or learn of the challenges facing the people staying there.
“I was already in support of the shelter, for many reasons, but I wanted to be able to speak more knowledgeably, based on facts rather than my own beliefs, so I went there myself this evening,” Hunt said, adding he was joined on the tour by fellow CCFG member Kim Mallory.
“This was a valuable meeting for me,” Hunt remarked. “I continue to be fully supportive of the need for this shelter and for its placement in this central location, and I want it to become a permanent and expanded project until homelessness is no longer a problem in my town.”