Shelter expansion shifts from overnight beds to longer stays

A new addition for a 30-day homeless shelter program was officially opened Wednesday at Ruth and Naomi's Mission in downtown Chilliwack

Garrett Wallace (right) takes a selfie with board of directors member Wayne Massey during the opening of the new expansion at Ruth and Naomi's Mission on Wednesday. Wallace has been sober for eight months and using the services at Ruth and Naomi's for the past five months.

Chilliwack’s street-entrenched seeking a bed for the night at Ruth and Naomi’s Mission are in for big changes.

A new addition for a 30-day homeless shelter program was officially opened Wednesday, with the help of funding partners Rotary Fraser Club of Chilliwack and City of Chilliwack.

“We’re hoping it will have a big impact,” said Bill Raddatz, executive director at Ruth and Naomi’s.

It’s already changing lives, like that of Garrett Wallace, one of the first people at the mission to complete the 30-day program.

They are still focused on providing “a hand up rather than a handout,” Raddatz said, but the shelter changes are substantial for the downtown mission.

The only time they’ll put mats down on the floor at Ruth and Naomi’s for overnight guests from here on in will be during extreme weather events in fall and winter.

The new shelter on the main floor will offer a type of introductory transitional housing with bunk beds for 12 men and four women, a common space and meeting rooms.

“We know that what we do downtown here has an impact on the greater community,” Raddatz said.

They now can offer homeless and street-entrenched two choices in terms of shelter. They can choose to enter the 30-day program, come up with a personal plan and milestones to achieve. They can then choose to move into, or “graduate” to the upstairs section of the mission for the Step-Up Residential Recovery Centre. There they can seek in-house residential drug and alcohol treatment, or choose to seek permanent housing or treatment elsewhere.

Some will come with nothing off the streets or from homeless camps, others may be referred by the courts or probation officers.

“Getting them off the streets and hopefully into a recovery program. That’s the ultimate goal,” Raddatz said. “We can show them how when they become healthier, they also become better citizens of Chilliwack. We want them to feel like it’s home, but at the same time challenge them.”

Staff will help with employment, helping identify housing options, medical issues and addictions.

Rotary Club of Chilliwack Fraser president Gary Armstrong said they were proud to be part of the project like this that sometimes slips through the funding cracks.

“It was an easy decision for us to make, to be able to give back to our community in this way to help to those in real need. We’re really glad to partner with the city on this and think that this is going to make a really big difference in our community.”

Mayor Sharon Gaetz agreed.

“Yes, a $73,000 difference (what Rotary raised) and it’s unbelievable,” she said. “It’s what happens when people come together for common cause, with passion and determination to make Chilliwack a better place to be.”

Typically under the community development funding policy for CDI grants, council can only contribute to projects where City of Chilliwack eventually retains the capital asset.

City council decided to make a onetime exception in this case, and waive that requirement of asset ownership she explained, and it didn’t take too much convincing. Council went ahead and voted to fund this homeless shelter project to the tune of $27,000.

“Council has learned a lot about homelessness, and some were lessons we wish we didn’t know,” said Gaetz, adding they heard “stories of courage, of fear, of frustration and stories of hope.”