More housing for Abbotsford’s homeless

Three years after a proposed complex for homeless men was blocked by neighbours, a new site has been announced.

Three years after a proposed complex for homeless men was blocked by neighbours, a new site has been announced.

In September 2008, the province announced it would approve funding of $11 million for a 50-unit site that was to be built next to the Matsqui Recreation Centre on Emerson Street. Under Victoria’s terms, the city had to donate the land for the facility. But neighbours complained that it was not appropriate to have the facility near the downtown park, in a residential neighbourhood, and council did not proceed with the plan.

At that time, Kinghaven executive director Milt Walker approached councillors about potentially bringing the project under the auspices of the non-profit Kinghaven Peardonville House Society (KPHS), and that plan has finally come to fruition.

On Friday, the housing ministry announced a 30-unit apartment building with support services for men with mental health and addiction issues will be built at 31250 King Road.

The society will transfer ownership of a land parcel to the city for the new building – to be known as the George Schmidt Centre. Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding with the province, the facility must be built on city-owned property.

A public information meeting about the centre will be held Wednesday, from 6-8 p.m., at 31250 King Road.

Kinghaven executive director Milt Walker said he does not expect the new facility to receive the public opposition experienced at the Emerson location.

The site has excellent separation from its neighbours. The nearest neighbour is the Level Ground Mennonite Church, which has been a strong supporter of KPHS, and it is separated by farm fields.

The society already has three other types of services at the site. There are two beds for patients undergoing detoxification.

Six more beds for “stabilization and transitional living” are designed to serve clients who are the most severely and chronically addicted. The Kinghaven Centre itself is a 52-bed facility that offers a 70-day intensive residential treatment program for substance abuse.

The new George Schmidt Centre will be a natural extension of the programs offered at Kinghaven, said Walker, and men who complete other programs will be able to move onto second-stage housing at the same site, and “re-establish themselves.”

The project will create jobs for five new employees, who will staff the facility 24/7.

“It’s a major addition to Abbotsford,” said Walker.

“Hopefully we can put a lot of productive men back into the work force, or whatever they choose to do.”

Last month work began on a similar facility for women and their children. It will include 41 apartment-style units, located at 3206 Clearbrook Road, operated by the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley. More than 80 women and children could be accommodated there.

“The province actively seeks partnerships that result in an increase in the number of transitional housing and support services available to British Columbians most in need,” said Housing Minister Rich Coleman in a press release.

The late George Schmidt was on the first board of directors for Kinghaven, when the facility was known as the MSA Halfway House. He spent 35 years working with the group, and was its longest serving member.

Schmidt was the Dean of Men at Columbia Bible College, and in addition to serving on the board of directors, he offered the men of Kinghaven Bible study, held at the church next door.

“He was a remarkable guy,” said Walker.