It’s an interim fix to address the “urgent need” to house people huddled in the streets of downtown Chilliwack.
A 40-bed shelter is set to open on December 1 in the former Lions Flea Market building on Yale Road East at Williams Street.
The “24/7 Winter Shelter” will be operated by Ruth and Naomi’s Mission, funded by BC Housing, in collaboration with City of Chilliwack. It will provide daytime shelter, and emergency beds at night for the estimated 25 to 30 people living precariously in the downtown care, with more in makeshift camps all over town.
“The building isn’t zoned for this use, so we had to create a way to make it happen,” explained Mayor Ken Popove.
Council voted Tuesday to refrain from enforcing its Zoning bylaw or the BC Building Code regulations for the four months the winter shelter will be open. A temporary use permit would have taken too long to get approved for the building zoned for commercial use.
The city staff report provided for council mapped out why the shelter was so urgently necessary, in the wake of makeshift camps popping up and the subsequent impacts all around:
“Homelessness is increasing in Chilliwack and respective impacts on the community continue to grow with it,” reads the reports.
Both shelters at Salvation Army and RAN have reported having to turn away people in recent months as they are operating at full capacity. Neither location had the capacity to accommodate any extra “extreme weather response” beds for this winter.
“The establishment of a four-month winter shelter would provide additional shelter beds and daytime place for people to gather, and potentially avail themselves of services, until such time as the new units become available in February/March 2019,” according to the report to council.
The “high level of need for shelter” guided the speed with which they are trying to secure the space. A Chilliwack Fire Department inspection has called for some modifications including fire extinguishers and a fire safety plan prior to occupancy.
It will be staffed around the clock, with a security plan in place, as well as a Good Neighbour Agreement. The timing and the location were good, since the modular supportive housing project at the old Traders Inn site is taking applications and is set to open in early 2019.
“There’s such a great need for this in our community,” said Mayor Popove, adding the partners, led by Bill Raddatz at RAN, have been working hard behind the scenes to set it all up. “Plus they are already there in the downtown core, so let’s get them inside. Winter hasn’t hit quite yet, but it is right around the corner.”
The fact that they’ll access support services and see outreach workers at the shelter is “super important,” Popove said.
“Of course it is good to warm people up in a shelter, but if we can help them, even better.”
The key aspect is that reps from health and social services will be scheduled to connect with those at the shelter who have previously been living rough, providing them opportunities to stabilize their health and their housing situation.
By the time the shelter is closed in April, the idea is that the 92 modular housing units green-lighted for Chilliwack with high supports, and 115 affordable rental apartments will be open, alleviating the need for ongoing shelter beds.
“Adding 40 beds to the emergency shelter continuum is going to make a huge impact,” he said.
The 5500-square-foot building at 46293 Yale Road, with “suitable space for storage and the installation of beds” for women and men in separate rooms, two washrooms and kitchen space in addition to a secure, fenced off area at the back for bike storage.