Building a foundation: New housing project for homeless women

Concrete was being poured last week on a project that will see 41 apartment-style units provided for up to 84 women and their children who would otherwise be living on the street.

Concrete was being poured last week on a project that will see 41 apartment-style units provided for up to 84 women and their children who would otherwise be living on the street.

It was September 2008 when the provincial government announced it would give Abbotsford $22 million for two housing projects designed to get homeless people off the streets. This week, the concrete footings were poured for the first project.

In about a year, the as-yet-unnamed facility will house up to 84 women and their children in 41 apartment-style units of varying sizes. These women would otherwise be living on the street, or in situations where they are vulnerable to becoming homeless.

The new facility is located on Clearbrook Road, closely neighbouring Matsqui Recreation Centre (MRC) and Howe Middle School.

It will be operated by the Women’s Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, which has a history of offering safe harbour to women in need. It runs a 12-bed transition house in Abbotsford and another 10-bed transition house in Mission. There are also 13 units of second-stage housing in Mission at Taulbut House, for mothers who have gone through alcohol or drug treatment. In Abbotsford the society also runs the Warm Zone drop-in centre for “street engaged women,” as well as Penny’s Place, which houses four women who have been living on the streets.

Executive director Pamela Willis said the Clearbrook Road project will allow the society to offer a a new level of support to women. They will be able to stay for up to two years to get their lives back on track.

“This is a very significant project for us, and for Abbotsford.”

She said some of the units will be studio suites for single women, ranging up to four-bedroom units for women with several children.

There will be no men housed at the facility.

It will cost approximately $9 million. To operate the facility, the government will contribute $117,000 per year, and the tenant rent, paid through social assistance, is budgeted to cover another $263,000, bringing a total of $380,000 for operational funding.

Under the terms set by Victoria, it would fund the housing projects if they were built on city-owned land, close to amenities such as shopping and bus service.

The first project proposed by council was a similar housing complex for men, which was to be located adjacent to MSA Arena. Neighbours complained to the city that it was inappropriate to house homeless people so near to Centennial Park and pool, and in a residential neighbourhood. The project was eventually cancelled.

The Women’s Resource Society has encountered less such concern, and Willis wanted to reassure the neighbours.

“There will be no problems. This is an alcohol- and drug-free facility, and there will be no high-risk clients,” she said.

In fact, Willis said the fact that the facility is situated next to the recreation centre and a school will make it convenient for the clients.

“That’s just a bonus to the women who live there.”

She said her group conducted a neighbourhood consultation before the project was confirmed.

It will be fully staffed with three people during the day, and one person will stay overnight.

Willis said the society has a lot of experience with women who are given support, and they are more likely to surprise than disappoint.

“They immediately raise the bar themselves,” she said. “They are in a safe place, they have food to eat, they see it as a chance to make changes in their life, and they do it immediately.”

She said when women who have been homeless are first given a space to call their own, “they almost always cry.

“Basically, it’s hope. Hope that ‘life can be good for me.’ ”

Willis is sure the new house, which will be given a proper name, will make a noticeable difference in Abbotsford’s homeless situation.

“It absolutely will,” said Willis. “If we provide people with the basics of housing and food – the essentials – that helps them get their life on track.”

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