A low-barrier housing project, expected to be finished in mid-April, will make “the single biggest dent in homelessness of any project” in Abbotsford to date, one service provider says.
Pastor Jesse Wegenast, harm reduction service co-ordinator with The 5 and 2 Ministries, says he’s exceptionally optimistic about the upcoming modular housing project on Riverside Road at the site of the Lookout Society shelter.
“The modulars are an exciting project. I’m actually more excited about the modulars as a project than I have been about anything for a long time, regarding the overall state of homelessness in our city,” Wegenast said.
“It’s going to give people the dignity of having their own space for the first time in a long time, and I think Lookout is the right organization to do it.”
Because the housing project will be pulling upwards of 40 people specifically off the streets and out of shelters, Wegenast added that it will be a big relief for local shelters. That includes a shelter run by him, a 15-bed seniors winter shelter that will see six of his regular clients moving out of there and into a home.
“Those shelter beds will be free the day after they move in,” Wegenast said. “If you were to talk to the people at the Salvation Army or talking to the people at the Lookout, they get calls daily asking for shelter beds, and 90 per cent of the time the answer is no because they’re full.
“We’re always full, every night. We’re full every night. But the day after, or a week after the mods open up, we’ll have five or six beds available because five or six people who are in our shelter are now in housing, and we can bring other people in the shelter.”
That, Wegenast said, will be a major relief for him and other shelter providers, and will “make a dramatic change in the short term.”
“Long term? We’ll see. But housing projects are good projects.”
Wegenast notes that between Hearthstone, the modular project at Riverside and another upcoming project on Peardonville Road, at the Elizabeth Fry Society, there is progress being made on the social-housing front.
To add to that, he pointed to a slew of purpose-built rentals approved by city hall over the past several years, which could help to open up vacancy in the city and alleviate the rental crisis.
With the modular project being more low-barrier and coming with less strict rules around occupancy, Wegenast said the new project may be good for some whom Hearthstone doesn’t work for.
“Hearthstone, to this point, has been the only game in town. So when you’re the only game in town, you can be expected to be all the things to all people, which is an unfair and unrealistic expectation,” Wegenast said.
“So I suspect, especially with the Lookout modular housing when that comes online, it’ll help the broader community understand the different needs of the different people who are appropriate for the different places.”