A handful of homeless youth in Chilliwack will have a place to call home just four days before Christmas.
The Switchback, a 16-unit supportive housing for people age 16 to 24, opened its doors to five youth and one toddler on Monday.
“The only requirement the youth have, to be here, is that they need a home,” said Les Talvio, executive director of Cyrus Centre.
The Switchback is a downtown housing project by Cyrus Centre that has been under construction for about six months. The building on Mellard Avenue was purchased in July by the City of Chilliwack and BC Housing, then completely gutted and renovated.
“This is the only youth housing project like this in the province,” Talvio said. “We’re really proud of Chilliwack… this wouldn’t have happened without the city believing in what we’re going to do and believing in these kids.”
Step inside the two-storey building and hallway lights turn on using motion detectors revealing bright corridors and a “welcome home” sign.
There are eight one-bedroom units and eight two-bedroom units at The Switchback.
All units are move-in ready. They’ve been outfitted with everything from furniture to dishes, pots and pans to towels.
One of the two-bedroom units will soon be home to a young mom and her child. A bright-coloured superhero comforter, pillows and wall decorations fill one of the two bedrooms, while crisp, grey bedding lies atop the bed in the adjacent room.
There’s even 50-plus pieces of artwork that have been donated by four local Chilliwack artists to fill the walls of the units and the hallways.
Many of the residents who’ll be moving in will be coming out of situations of abuse, poverty, exploitation and drugs.
“Right from day one, we’re going to be working with them on a plan that’s going to help them develop the skills and overcome the barriers they may currently be facing to be successfully independent in the community,” Talvio said.
There’s staff on site 24/7 working out of the resource room.
Residents will have access to youth health clinics, Pacific Community Resources Society, addiction services, trauma counsellors and Aboriginal mentorship programs. They’ll learn how to work on emotional regulation, physical health, spiritual health and conflict resolution. There’s one-on-one counselling as well as group programs including community meals, games nights, and skill-building activities.
“These kids are as diverse as the services they need and will receive,” Talvio said. “Chilliwack really sets an example – as far as the Fraser Valley goes – on how to get things done and how to collaborate and how to look after those most vulnerable.”
Staff will also help teach them skills like how to do laundry, how to enhance food hampers to create different meals, and how to look for jobs.
Talvio expects the average length of stay at The Switchback will be about two years, but no one will get kicked out at the age of 24 if they’re not yet ready to be on their own.
“We don’t want to be the cause of anyone being homeless. We want to be part of the solution,” he said.
While five of the units will be occupied as of Monday, the other 11 units will be filled over the coming weeks. Every resident is from Chilliwack and each is required to pay rent (typically $375 a person) which comes from the shelter portion of their income assistance pay.
“The nice thing is we are going to make an immediate impact, as small as it is, on youth homelessness in the community,” Talvio said.
The residents can come and go as they please, but they do need to be buzzed into the building by a staff member. All guests are pre-approved and screened.
Some of the youth moving in have already had a tour of their new homes.
“They are very excited. It’s not what they imagine or what they pictured,” said Alyssa Vlaanderen, case manager for independent living. “They’re amazed it’s all brand new, it’s all right from the store and it’s all for them.”
Each unit is sponsored by either an individual, a business or a church who will be providing them with their first groceries to fill the fridge, cupboards and freezer. The sponsor will also be giving them a Christmas present and birthday present.
There are even ‘Bags of Love’ in each unit filled with a handmade quilt, toques, socks, art supplies and more.
“There is so much love that has gone into this, from the community and the staff,” Talvio said. “This building, and everything that’s gone into it, is what love looks like.”