There’s been a surge of behind-the-scenes activity in Chilliwack to come up with a solution to the growing homeless camp — even a temporary one.
A temporary shelter with 30 low-barrier beds is opening on an emergency basis at the Chilliwack Salvation Army on Friday night, according to Tim Bohr, director of community ministries for Salvation Army.
“These beds will provide options for our city’s homeless. Whether they take the opportunity to come in or not will depend on them. But at least we are providing a safe option,” he said.
Shopping carts and personal belongings can be stored in a locked shipping container outside, and sharps containers will be in the washrooms.
It’s connected to the Supreme Court of B.C. granting City of Chilliwack’s application for an injunction to evict the campers on Wednesday afternoon. The ruling requires that all structures removed from the downtown parking lot by noon on Oct. 19.
Four more staff will be hired soon to help run the temporary shelter beds at the Sally Ann, which will feature cots from the Chilliwack Fire Department used in emergency and disaster response.
“We are not set up for this, but we’re trying to respond to the need we see in a compassionate way,” Bohr said.
Funding for the coed beds, with separated sections for men and women in the soup kitchen, was secured from BC Housing, and will last until the end of April. City of Chilliwack has also offered interim funding if need be.
“We felt it was something we needed to do, to respond to the situation,” said Bohr. “But this really is a crisis response. This is not a permanent solution. It’s not even close to that.”
The long-term solution is having adequate treatment beds, mental health care and affordable housing available, he said.
Even the 80-unit Urban Village project opening in 2018 will not be quite enough for Chilliwack, and will only afford a piece of the puzzle, Bohr said.
The temporary low-barrier beds are linked to the court injunction to remove the encampment. Allowing the homeless to stay in parks was contingent on them not having anywhere safe to stay, but with the new shelter beds providing a safe space in a low-barrier atmosphere, meaning they don’t have to be sober or in recovery, that changes things.
Sally Ann officials say the shelter beds will be available overnight, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the soup kitchen part of the Care and Share building on Yale Road. “The City’s updated Parks Bylaw made it possible to seek this injunction and the availability of new minimum-barrier beds at the Salvation Army was also referenced by the court,” according to the city press release.
They worked quickly. The Salvation Army was expecting the funding from the Province to only be freed up by Nov. 1.
But with the pressing need right now for low-barrier spaces, city reps reached out to local MLAs and the B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman to see if interim funding could be made available earlier to open the beds immediately.
“Both the Province and the Salvation Army have worked quickly to respond to this need in our community,” according to the release.
It provides a safer solution for the community, as well as for the homeless group that had been camped out.
“We are pleased that the Salvation Army, in cooperation with BC Housing, is able to quickly open beds to provide a safer option for the individuals living in the homeless camp in the Princess Lane parking lot,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz. “We would also like to thank MLA Laurie Throness and Minister Rich Coleman for responding so quickly to this urgent need in Chilliwack.”
During the injunction hearing, the judge asked the city’s lawyer for specific examples of parks where homeless people could erect shelters overnight and was provided with examples, but city officials do not consider park space as a viable solution, nor are they directing homeless people to any specific public parks.
“Our parks are not designed for overnight camping and are not a long-term solution to homelessness in our community,” said Gaetz. “It is our hope that all individuals in Chilliwack will have an opportunity to be housed.”
The regular shelter at the Sally Ann, the Brigadier Arthur Cartmell House Emergency Shelter, will continue operations as usual.