It’s been rough for those sleeping on the streets of Chilliwack — even during a mild winter.
Many of the 30 to 35 guests bedding down nightly at The Portal shelter are patiently waiting for the modular supportive housing to open in April, while others refuse to stay in emergency shelters.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Mayor Ken Popove. “We’re doing what we can, and there are more positive things coming.”
Chilliwack has a total of about 139 adult shelter spaces available at this point for anyone seeking a bed for the night, and they are not full every night.
For example, The Portal, the 24/7 winter shelter, at Yale and Williams, opened with 45 spaces, with temporary BC Housing funding in early December.
It has been full most nights since it opened on Dec. 3.
“So far we’re calling it a success,” reported Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth & Naomi’s Mission, which operates the Portal.
They view the shelter as a “navigational pivot point” to help people permanently leave the life on the streets.
Some are starting to “take pride in their surroundings,” Raddatz said, and guests have been helping with street cleanups.
“It’s been running smoother than anticipated as some guests have realized they could stay for the full four months while waiting to transition to other housing alternatives,” he said.
But the existing shelter at RAN, which had been averaging 30 to 35 guests per night, is now only seeing about 15 to 20 people per night.
City crews clean up garbage most weekday mornings, while Fraser Health outreach workers and ICM team members engage regularly with shelter guests.
The RAN Family Centre as well as the Yale Road modular supportive housing project should be open and ready to intake residential tenants by April.
The area around the post office downtown has remained occupied by about 20 people. Most have complex, multi-barrier situations that have brought them to homelessless and substance use.
“Unfortunately that is their choice,” Raddatz said about those for whom the shelter rules or other restrictions are unacceptable. “It’s a hard life.”
Chilliwack officials have been working closely with various organizations and provincial agencies to address the desperate situation of those with addiction and mental health issues living rough. They have also been applying for funding and partnerships from senior levels of government to increase housing and shelter beds, and more is on the way in the next six months.
“The biggest thing we are looking to in 2019 is for the modular supportive housing to open. We expect that to be a big help,” Popove said. There are already 30 names on the intake list for the 45 units.
Gaining the infrastructure capacity to be able to help everyone who needs it “does not happen overnight,” the mayor underlined.
The homeless population exploded in the last few years, faster than all levels of government could address it, but they have been taking on the challenge — head on.
“It’s all been a work in progress,” Popove said.