Wednesday marked the third day of the new winter shelter bringing the homeless in from the cold on Yale Road East.
“It’s been very smooth,” said Bill Raddatz, executive director of Ruth and Naomi’s Mission (RAN).
“The Portal,” as they’re calling the new 24/7 shelter, will function as a daytime shelter/navigation centre, as well as a nighttime shelter.
That’s in addition to the other main shelters already in operation across Chilliwack.
As Raddatz headed into the building to check things out, and he said was happy to find shelter guests cleaning, putting stuff away and sweeping up.
The shelter can sleep 45, and will operate as a “navigation centre” during the day as various support agencies come by to help, such as the outreach ICM team or Sto:lo Service Agency members.
Located at 46293 Yale Rd., the shelter will be operated by the local RAN staff on-site at the shelter around-the-clock to provide support. Guests will be provided with two meals, snacks and laundry service.
RAN officials are also extremely appreciative of the “leadership and support” shown to date by Mayor Ken Popove, staff and council on this file, Raddatz added. City officials will not enforce the zoning or building code bylaws for the temporary shelter.
“It is becoming a real community effort, in terms of the service providers and partners coming together, but also some community members have been volunteering to offer support as well,” said Raddatz. “The more you have, the easier it is. We’re here to solve the problems, but sometimes it’s as challenging as a salmon swimming upstream.”
They weren’t full on the first night, and are averaging about 30 to 35 guests overnight at the new shelter, with another 20 coming indoors at the main RAN building.
The shelter will be open until the end of March.
“By that time, a separate 46-unit supportive housing project currently under construction at 45944 Yale Rd. is expected to be open. Over time, people coming into the shelter will be able to transition to new self-contained homes and benefit from additional support services,” according to an info bulletin from BC Housing and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Reps from Fraser Health and social service agencies will be on-site weekly to assess needs and connect people with housing and other services.
Community members were making preparations to paint the front window with Christmas scenes on Wednesday evening, as well as making plans to accept donations of crib boards and other items at the shelter from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 5.
“I think this is going to be a place where, instead of having a negative impact on the neighbourhood, the building will bring people together. Just wait and see. Or come and help,” Phillipson said. “It’s going to be great but we still need more spaces like this.”
The Chilliwack Citizens for Change group on Facebook is also actively supporting the shelter, and putting out the call for, and organizing the collection of donations, from the wider community.
Phillipson said she noticed that some neighbours have really shifted their attitudes about helping the homeless, compared to last year when the prevailing attitude in Chilliwack seemed to be: “Give ‘em all fentanyl.”
“I think the public’s empathy and compassion is growing for our struggling neighbours,” Phillipson said. “It seems dramatically different from last year. The scale is tilted and people realize they need somewhere to go. Unfortunately there are still many out on the streets.
In the meantime, the volunteers have compiled a list of items needed, in addition to cash donations:
• playing cards
• crib boards
• pencil crayons
• board games
The new shelter is in addition to five other shelters funded by the provincial government which are running at or near capacity on a nightly basis:
• Salvation Army – 45746 Yale Rd., Brigadier Arthur Cartmell House, permanent shelter – 11 beds
• Salvation Army – 45748 Yale Rd., House of Hope, permanent shelter – 48 beds
• RAN – 46130 Margaret Ave., Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, permanent shelter – 15 beds
• RAN – 46130 Margaret Ave., temporary shelter – 26 spaces
• Cyrus Centre – 45845 Wellington Ave., temporary shelter open – 12 spaces