Renovations to The Portal homeless shelter are coming in the wake of the temporary use permit being extended for 18 months by council last week.
Changes to the building on Yale Road will include a new side entrance, bunk beds, indoor washrooms and a review of security and cleanliness, all funded by BC Housing.
A BCH official confirmed with The Progress in an email that they are “committed to making improvements to the shelter facility” as well as working with neighbours, on the heels of the Oct. 17 public hearing at city hall that attracted more 40 speakers.
”Although we would have preferred an extension for the full three years, we are relieved that council understands there is an obvious need to keep the shelter open and provide a warm and safe space for people in the community that have nowhere else to go,” said BC Housing spokesperson Laura Mathews.
The concerns of the residents were heard loud and clear by BCH.
“We are aware of neighbourhood concerns and we want to work with the community,” Mathews noted.
On the heels of the marathon hearing that lasted almost five hours, city officials ask BCH to find ways to reduce the loitering and foot traffic outside the front door of The Portal.
“In response, BC Housing will be moving the main entrance to the side of the building,” Mathews said. “Additional fencing and an awning will also be put in place at the new entrance and around the outdoor amenity area.”
The plan is to set up a community advisory committee that includes reps from RAN, BCH, City of Chilliwack, RCMP and neighbours, “where we can work together to come up with solutions to some of the issues that we may be seeing at the shelter,” Mathews wrote in an email to the newspaper.
Community concerns around loitering, security and cleanliness will be addressed through a series of planned renovations to the Yale Road building and shelter site.
“Part of the improvements proposed for the site include building indoor washrooms, expanding the kitchen and dining area, reviewing the current security plan and implementing some exterior upgrades, including changing the entrance access to the shelter,” the BCH official said.
They will also work closely with city hall and community members to find a new location for the shelter in the longer term and consider additional supportive housing options for Chilliwack, Mathews added.
BC Housing will work the building contractors on a timeline for the renovations, and the schedule is expected to be ready in the coming weeks.
Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, said they are feeling optimistic about the future.
“One thing that was made clear at the hearing was that The Portal wasn’t really the problem,” Raddatz said. “We have a huge safety issue in general in that part of town, and The Portal gets painted with that brush.”
Some suggested at the hearing that the biggest problem is the 7-Eleven site next door.
“The RAN team is optimistic for the future of the Portal and those who call it home,” according to the RAN post after the meeting. “Although there is no perfect solution, quick fix, or option that will please all at this time, the RAN team, BCH and City of Chilliwack will begin the search for a more permanent solution.
“Our heart and intention is to transform our community one life at a time.”
Anyone interested in the Community Advisory Committee can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.