Rendering of proposed homeless shelter and supportive housing facility on Rowat Avenue and Trethewey Avenue in Chilliwack. (BC Housing)

Rendering of proposed homeless shelter and supportive housing facility on Rowat Avenue and Trethewey Avenue in Chilliwack. (BC Housing)

Supportive housing and shelter proposed to replace the Portal in Chilliwack

Province looking to fast-track hybrid proposal for 50 supportive homes and 40 shelter spaces

Plans are percolating to replace The Portal homeless shelter in downtown Chilliwack with a combined facility offering both supportive housing and a homeless shelter.

If the rezoning is approved, construction could begin as early as this spring on a modular building at Rowat Avenue and Trethewey Avenue.

The Province of B.C. through BC Housing has chosen the Phoenix Drug and Alcohol Recovery and Education Society to run the facility that would see 50 supportive homes, and a 40-bed shelter established for people experiencing homelessness in Chilliwack.

If approved, the hybrid shelter and housing project will offer the “possibility” of a fresh start for those struggling with housing unafforability.

“There’s a significant need to provide more supportive housing and shelter spaces for vulnerable people in Chilliwack,” said David Eby, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing.

In fact, “the Province is fast-tracking the plan to start construction at this site” to make sure people in need can secure a safe place to sleep, according to the BC Housing web page on the project.

Chilliwack volunteers recorded 306 people during the last homeless count in 2020, which was significantly more than the 221 in 2017.

But the location of the Portal shelter on Yale Road east near Williams Street became controversial after initially galvanizing solid community support. Residents of Chilliwack packed city hall in the fall of 2019 to vehemently oppose the downtown location of the Portal, asking council not to renew the permit allowing it to be sited in close proximity to so many schools.

The Portal’s temporary use permit is up in April 2021, but BC Housing has applied for an extension to smooth the transition.

RELATED: Parents say shelter too close to schools in the downtown

Working together the way they have on the challenge of homelessness is definitely the way to go, said Mayor Ken Popove.

“Providing supports for people experiencing homelessness involves an enormous amount of teamwork and collaboration,” said Popove. “We are grateful the province recognizes a need for supportive housing and shelter space in Chilliwack and look forward to working with them further.”

BC Housing and Phoenix Society submitted a rezoning application for the new facility to be located at Rowat and Trethewey. The site is seen as “ideal for use as a shelter and supportive housing project” as it is close to public transportation, clinics and other amenities, according to project proponents.

“Phoenix Society is excited to work with BC Housing and the City of Chilliwack on this proposal,” said Keir Macdonald, CEO, Phoenix Society. “We are confident it will provide the necessary supports to those who are in need in Chilliwack to help change the trajectory of their lives.”

Society staff would be on site 24/7 to provide support services for residents, including life skills training, mentorship and wellness checks, and would encourage culturally appropriate programming.

Fraser Health, through an integrated response team, will provide primary health care, home health and mental health and substance use services on site to some residents and shelter guests, as well as referral to mental health and substance use recovery programs, as needed.

The modular project would be L-shaped with supportive housing on one side and the shelter on the other side.

The building will be between three and four storeys high, with offices, meeting rooms and a commercial kitchen. The 50 homes would be studio units with private bathrooms and kitchens.

The shelter would be open nightly and provide a warm, safe and physically distanced place for people to stay.

“I’m grateful for the efforts of BC Housing and Phoenix Society for working together on this proposal,” said Dan Coulter, MLA for Chilliwack.

Housing with supports and shelter spaces like this “are desperately needed” so more people can get off the streets, Coulter said.

A community advisory committee (CAC) is part of the process if approved, which would bring together project partners and neighbourhood representatives to address any concerns that may arise.

If rezoning is approved, construction is expected to start in late spring or summer 2021.

To date in Chilliwack, BC Housing, with its partners, have opened 108 homes with 24/7 support for people experiencing homelessness in Chilliwack. The supportive housing includes 16 homes for youth (aged 16 to 24) experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Across the Fraser Valley, more than 260 supportive homes are open or underway.

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RELATED: The Portal galvanized community support

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