When a housing project for homeless men is built in your neighbourhood it can be concerning, but Abbotsford is about to take a positive step forward, says Nadine Power, director of operations at Abbotsford Community Services (ACS).
“It’s scary to start. It’s scary when you haven’t seen a successful supportive housing project in the neighbourhood – but they are all over the province.”
With a new location and provincial funding restored, a low-barrier supportive housing project for homeless men in Abbotsford will go forward on Gladys Avenue, north of George Ferguson Way.
Since June 2013, when ACS first announced they were working with BC Housing to build a project in Abbotsford’s downtown, the project has met with opposition and concern. Low-barrier means that residents do not have to be free of drug and alcohol use before moving into the facility. The project follows a housing-first model – the concept being that once people are housed they are in better position to address issues such as mental health or addictions, explained Rod Santiago, executive director of ACS.
The original development was set for 2408 Montvue Ave., across from ACS headquarters. The project would provide housing and support services for 20 men who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. But the plan faced opposition from some neighbouring residents, businesses and the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association, which objected to its proposed location in a downtown zone that prohibits supportive housing. While the project also had many supporters at a public hearing, it was eventually defeated by council on a tie vote last February.
There was some uncertainty about whether money from BC Housing was still available in Abbotsford. The provincial agency had offered $2.4 million in capital funding and up to $215,000 in operating and support services funding annually.
The city decided to rezone land on Gladys Avenue to allow for supportive housing, with hopes of securing funding.
Despite mainly opposing comments from neighbouring residents at a public hearing, city council passed third reading, and the rezoning and official community plan amendments will come forward for council’s adoption in February.
In December, it was announced that a 20-resident project would proceed on the city-owned site on Gladys Avenue – outside the zone that prohibits supportive housing – with ACS as the operator.
Santiago said they understand the public hearing process at city hall happened quickly. Now they want to listen and address issues and concerns.
When the facility is in place, Power said they will set up a good-neighbour committee, which will include staff, a poverty specialist, addictions specialist, someone with mental health training, and also neighbourhood representatives.
The site will have 24-7 support, she said, and there will be a number posted on the building so people can always reach someone to address any issues. Due to the greater distance from ACS, the new facility will require more funding from BC Housing for additional staff. BC Housing representatives are still working out the annual operating budget.
“Not only will there be a caretaker living on the premises, there will also be an evening staff person as well as a day-time staff person in the building,” said Santiago.
There will be addictions services through ACS, and residents will work on life skills, employment, computer skills, a community kitchen and more.
Santiago said their focus is on men who are already a part of the Abbotsford community. While the project will not solve homelessness in the city, it will play an important part, he said.
While there will be no curfews for residents, there will be rules, such as no visitors in the rooms. Residents must use a key fob to get in and there will be a fenced-in smoking area so residents have a place to smoke but others cannot access it.
It is important for people to remember that this is the residents’ home, said Santiago. Power added that any apartment building in Abbotsford will have less rules than the project.
Those opposed to the project raised a concern that the project is too close to schools, according to city bylaws. While supportive recovery homes are subject to certain rules and must be 200 metres from existing recovery homes and schools, this is a supportive housing initiative, and is not subject to those restrictions.
In the former project, the land was to be donated by ACS. The property on Gladys is city-owned and will be leased to BC Housing for $1 per year over a 60-year agreement.
BC Housing representatives say construction is estimated to begin this fall. In the meantime, ACS representatives want to answer questions from the community and will be scheduling meetings.
“Our doors are open for people to come in and talk to us about the project,” said Power.
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