Les Talvio and Alyssa Vlaanderen and show off the superhero-themed room of one of the two-bedroom units at The Switchback, a supportive housing building for youth on Dec. 18, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Les Talvio and Alyssa Vlaanderen and show off the superhero-themed room of one of the two-bedroom units at The Switchback, a supportive housing building for youth on Dec. 18, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

What is Chilliwack doing about housing and homelessness?

Update from Chilliwack Healthier Community partners paints picture of collaboration

People often ask what Chilliwack is doing about housing and homelessness.

With so many projects on the go it was time for Chilliwack Healthier Community partners to answer that perennial question last Thursday (Oct. 28) in virtual format.

Updates on projects tackling housing and homelessness rolled out in a two-hour Zoom session.

The one thing Ruth and Naomi’s Mission (RAN) will never do “is turn someone away who needs a place to lay their heads,” according Dr. John Gray, clinical services director for RAN, who kicked off the presentations.

Services by RAN have grown and they operate programs from a number of different sites.

“The number of beds has not changed,” Gray said.

They still have about 45 emergency shelter spaces, offered now at Revive, the same number as they had when they ran The Portal. They have room for about 60 people to take overnight shelter if need be.

Some thought when The Portal shut down last summer that they were moving the residents into the old Travelodge, after it was purchased by BC Housing last spring.

In fact, RAN’s emergency shelter program was renamed Revive, and moved back into to their original facility on Margaret Avenue. The residential men’s recovery program is in the process of moving into The Interchange, at the former Travelodge. Once permits are in place, the plan is for 18 treatment beds to go fully operational at the Interchange, which is now running as a hybrid shelter for those not overly chemically dependent.

But a proposal is before BC Housing, with the goal of making a permanent shift to supportive housing at the old hotel.

The other RAN facility is the 36-unit Family Centre site, which “was full” before they even opened it on Princess Avenue.

And it has remained that way. There are wrap-around services, as well as state-of-the-art security.

“We call it housing plus, rather than housing first,” Gray said.

The Oasis residential recovery for women houses eight women, and is almost full.

Building affordable housing for seniors could potentially be in RAN’s future. Discussions with BC Housing are currently underway, he announced.

Trevor Wiens, director of Cyrus Centre Chilliwack was next. He presented on The Switchback, a low-barrier housing facility for youth on Mellard Avenue.

It was built by BC Housing for the Cyrus staff to provide “stable and safe” rental housing with support services for youth 16 to 24, who were either homeless or at risk of it.

“It’s been a crazy, fast year,” Wiens said describing their first year of operations. “We’ve been adjusting and adapting.”

Cyrus staff at the emergency youth shelter on Wellington Avenue run worked with many homeless teens, either as individuals or in families, who had been unhoused for a long time, Wiens said.

That’s how they knew they needed something for homeless youth with wrap-around supports, to help stabilize their lives.

“If they’ve been living outside, skills like budgeting or maintaining a healthy routine do not come naturally.”

So what makes The Switchback unique? It’s low-barrier, meaning the youth can use drugs without being kicked out, but smoking is outdoors only. The emphasis is on safety, he underlined.

They welcome “open and honest conversations” with residents about substance use, and there are harm reduction supplies on-site. The residents can ask staff to check on them in 10 or 15 minutes.

“What we don’t want is them using in isolation,” Wiens pointed out.

They also try to foster community and get-togethers at The Switchback for breakfasts, movie nights, grocery shopping. There’s a meeting room for drug and alcohol counselling or trauma counselling. The place is staffed 24/7, with a life skills facilitator, and those who work with young residents with goal-setting, and staying accountable.

“What we’re learning is that there isn’t a lot of programs out there like this,” Wiens added.

Next was an update on the Reaching Home homelessness prevention program delivered by Karen Stanton, City of Chilliwack’s manager of long-range planning and community safety.

Stanton has been working on the city’s homelessness policies and supports for the past 12 years, leading the creation of the Homelessness Action Plan in 2016. Then the long-awaited shift when Chilliwack became recognized as a designated community under the Reaching Home, federal homelessness funding program.

The first Reaching Home agreement was signed in 2020 for $1.7 million to be spent in Chilliwack over four years, with more on the way for 2021-22.

The Chilliwack Housing Hub update was provided by Graham McMahon, Housing Hub supervisor for Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS).

Taking a housing first approach to adding to the housing stock in Chilliwack started in 2018 with two staff to create the systems-based housing hub.

They don’t own any buildings, and instead they focus on forging partnerships with landlords, and agencies, and securing market rental units, where PCRS staff, or the tenants themselves, sign the tenancy agreements.

“It’s about finding the right housing for the right person,” McMahon said.

The housing hub has housed 97 people, which included 75 adults and 22 children. There are 84 right now on the referral list for housing, of which 56 per cent are Indigenous.

“It’s not just a roof over their heads. We are also providing them with support so they can recover in holistic ways.”

Last year the Housing Hub expanded to five staff, and could offer rent subsidies with funding from BC Housing and Reaching Home. This year they were able to employ six staff, including a housing operations facilitator.

A new rapid response outreach service is already operational in Chilliwack.

PCRS manager Jody Higgs, and Const. Krista Vrolyk of Chilliwack RCMP presented details on the one-year pilot project, the Community Integration and Co-ordination Program (CICP).

“It’s bringing outreach to the streets in real time,” Vrolyk said.

Building on work of the Chilliwack Integrated Response Team (CIRT), project was able to hire two outreach workers, Christine Christensen, and Crystal Tremblay, as community integration staff. There had been a huge need for someone be able connect with and case-manage Chilliwack’s most vulnerable.

The workers can take part in the downtown patrols along with RCMP, bylaw enforcement and security. They can provide a supportive ear, on-site assessments, as well as transportation to treatment, detox, court, or health appointments.

Higgs said she has never seen a community that works so well together, “bringing silos together” the way Chilliwack does especially in collaboration.

This new project is “all about community, and integrating services,” to allow the outreach work to be proactive in a way Chilliwack has never seen before with street entrenched as well as those at risk of homelessness.

So when they meet up with those in need, these staffers are ready to provide compassionate help quickly. It’s on-call service, addressing needs as they pop up, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

They can hop in the van and go address a situation when they need to.

“They are passionate, energetic, and connected with both resources and people,” Higgs said.

The outreach workers have already had 437 points of contact with folks in the streets, and 15 individuals are being helped with case management.

It’s exactly what everyone has always said that Chilliwack so desperately needs. And now it’s here.

RELATED: What is Chilliwack doing about housing and homelessness 2017?

RELATED: What is Chilliwack doing about housing and homelessness 2018?

RELATED: What is Chilliwack doing about housing and homelessness 2019?

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
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City of ChilliwackHousing and Homelessness

 

Cyrus Centre head Les Talvio, outside The Switchback, a supportive housing building for youth on Dec. 18, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Cyrus Centre head Les Talvio, outside The Switchback, a supportive housing building for youth on Dec. 18, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

The 82-unit Travelodge Hotel on Yale Road in Chilliwack was purchased last spring by BC Housing. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

The 82-unit Travelodge Hotel on Yale Road in Chilliwack was purchased last spring by BC Housing. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

The province, through BC Housing, purchased the 82-unit Travelodge Hotel on Yale Road in Chilliwack, seen here on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

The province, through BC Housing, purchased the 82-unit Travelodge Hotel on Yale Road in Chilliwack, seen here on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)