A young person walks by The Portal on Yale Road as guests and staff hand out refreshments in a counter protest to those opposing the shelter location. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress file)

TOP STORIES 2019: The Portal location in downtown Chilliwack became an irritant

Council decides to extend the homeless shelter permit after four-hour meeting at city hall

The location of a homeless shelter in Chilliwack raised the hackles of some residents in late 2019 who wanted it moved out of the downtown core.

When it opened in December 2018, The Portal’s existence galvanized support from the community, with volunteers stepping up to paint the windows, and collect games. But as the months went by, concerns among some parents and residents grew about criminal activity outside the shelter.

The topic of the shelter location blew up on social media in September, and an online petition with almost 3,800 names asked that The Portal be moved.

“Although we understand there is a need for homeless shelters and warming shelters in Chilliwack this is not the right location for it,” read the preamble to the petition. “This shelter impacts the entire neighbourhood and children in the neighbouring schools.”

• READ MORE: Parental frustration about Chilliwack homeless shelter boils over with petition

The Portal shelter was up for renewal of its temporary use permit in October, but given its close proximity to two schools, a large crowd packed city hall demanding council turn down the BC Housing proposal.

Officials replied point blank there were no suitable alternative locations to move it to.

That record-breaking four-hour meeting on Oct. 15, with more than 40 people at the mic until after 1 a.m. saw passionate parents, youth and downtown residents talk about the open drug use, criminality, and concerns about student safety.

Council also heard comments about the crucial work being done to help folks navigate services, and the shelter guests who’ve moved on to supportive housing. Some supporters pointed out out that the crime, mental health and addictions issues were pre-existing problems downtown before the shelter opened, but there was none of the security on-site, staffing or services back then.

In the end, council eventually voted to leave The Portal where it is, and extend the permit to just 18 months instead of the three years proposed.

A permit extension was required since city officials are not enforcing zoning or building code bylaws for the shelter. Physical changes are coming too, including a new side entrance, showers and bunk beds.

• READ MORE: Council votes to give Chilliwack homeless shelter an 18-month extension

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