Construction crews work on renovating the Chilliwack Health and Housing Contact Centre on Young Road Monday afternoon.

Work finally underway at Chilliwack contact centre

Chilliwack Health and Housing Contact Centre on Young Road should be open by late this summer.

Renovations have finally started on the new Chilliwack Health and Housing Contact Centre on Young Road.

The plan is to start providing supportive housing as well as health and social services to the community’s most vulnerable by the summer of 2013.

“This project is an outcome of tenacious people,” said Lee Anne Hanson, manager of the Chilliwack Health and Housing Contact Centre, at the Friday afternoon ground-breaking.

Tenacity and collaboration were concepts that came up repeatedly in the speeches to explain how the unique state-of-the-art centre came to be.

“Every one of you have made this possible,” said Hanson to the crowd huddled against the cold under a tent in the parking lot of the construction site on Young Road.

Chilliwack MLA John Les congratulated project partners on behalf of the premier and the provincial government. The province through B.C. Housing kicked in the lion’s share, including $3.4 million for the building acquisition and renovations, plus $230,000 for housing aspect.

The contact centre will be a “very important new component in our community,” added Les, “as we deal with people who for whatever reason have fallen out of the mainstream, and find themselves in very disadvantageous circumstances.”

Mayor Sharon Gaetz was exuberant as she expressed to the crowd how happy she was this day had finally arrived, since everyone had been asking city officials when it would be done.

“Well, it starts today!” she enthused.

“I’m just so proud of our town for coming together on this,” Gaetz said.

She recalled the strategic plan that emerged from 75 stakeholder groups coming together in 2009 as part of a network of Chilliwack Healthier Communities. The aim was to find a way to deal with the social disintegration agencies were noting at street level downtown in an integrated way, with wrap-around services offered at one site.

The desperate need for mental health, addiction and housing services predominated.

“And this project that we’re putting forward to the community has all of those components,” said Gaetz.

Homelessness, and the potential of effective treatment of vulnerable populations in a community setting, was zeroed in on by Andy Libbiter, acting executive director of Mental Health and Substance Use for Fraser Health.

Fraser Health will offer key resources including a nurse practitioner, physician support and a medical office assistant, to a mental health case worker and more.

“One of the single largest challenges we face in a modern society is homelessness. As we know, the cost to both individuals and society in general is very high,” Libbiter said.

It’s therefore an area very “deserving of our collective attention.”

“The evidence is clear that effective treatment of homeless people or those at risk requires comprehensive, integrated, and client-centred services, as well as stable and affordable housing,” added Libbiter.

When building upgrades are complete, the two-storey former hotel building will provide supportive apartments for 22 homeless people, or those at risk of being homeless.

“There’s such a strong need for this project and great community support,” said Cynthia Admiraal, president of the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board.

She noted the broad level of community “buy-in” that it took to make the contact centre idea happen, and said her board was cognizant of it as well.

“This project is an excellent example of organizations from different sectors working toward a common goal and a shared solution,” she said, offering congratulations to PCRS and all the partners.

Dr. William McMichael of Pacific Community Resources Society said PCRS was “proud to be part of an evolutionary leap in Chilliwack” that the project represents, “and for that matter the entire province.”

The contact centre will be run by Pacific Community Resources Society (PCRS), at 8583 Young Road, with a range of community support services delivered by both PCRS and Fraser Health. Project proponents, and funding partners included the B.C Government and B.C. Housing, as well as City of Chilliwack, PCRS, Fraser Health, the Real Estate Foundation of B.C.

The City of Chilliwack chipped in $500,000 while PCRS will contribute $100,000 in equity toward the project.

The Real Estate Foundation of B.C. has offered $50,000, while Fraser Health will contribute $33,000 in annual operational funding for the residential component and $25,000 annually for three years for operating costs.

Fraser Health also will make significant contributions through primary-care, mental-health and substance-use services provided on-site.

Renovations in the next few months on the old motel building will include life and safety upgrades to the existing structure and the addition of small kitchens to create self-contained studio units.