Thirty people who may otherwise be living on Abbotsford streets are moving into Hearthstone Place, a long-awaited supportive-housing project that officially opened last week.
The project was unveiled by politicians and other dignitaries during a ceremony held at the Gladys Avenue facility on Friday morning.
The 30 low-barrier units will become long-term homes for 20 men and 10 women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Seven individuals had already moved into the building by Friday, as part of a “gradual entry phase.”
The one-room bachelor apartments all include a kitchen with a combined living room and bedroom area. Each unit will house one individual, with strict rules against visitors.
Justin, 24, (who did not want his last name used) said he moved into the facility from an addiction treatment facility. Before that, he was living on the streets and using drugs, he said.
He said moving into Hearthstone Place will not only keep him off the streets but the stability it provides will also help keep him off drugs.
“It’s wonderful… It’s the perfect size for me [and] it’s right close to where I’m going to be working. It’s a perfect match,” he said.
The project was first announced, with a $2.4 million budget, in December 2014, following a controversial tied council vote that denied plans for a similar 20-bed facility proposed by Abbotsford Community Services (ACS). That project would have been built downtown and encountered opposition from the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association.
The Gladys Avenue facility, operated by ACS, was first planned to house 20 men but was expanded by a floor, and 10 beds, as demand swelled from Abbotsford’s homeless population. The final price tag eventually rose to $5.1 million.
ACS executive director Rod Santiago gave an emotional speech at Friday’s ceremony, looking back on the struggle to have such a facility built in Abbotsford.
“Five and half years ago, we began the journey of creating Abbotsford’s very first housing-first initiative: a place to call home for people, who for a myriad of reasons live on the streets; a safe, and inclusive community that offers not just a roof but also the supports and the encouragements to work through the ravages of pain-filled lives.”
After the ceremony, Santiago told The News the process was “a long haul” but said he has seen a shift in attitudes toward homeless people in Abbotsford over the last five years.
“We weren’t necessarily at a place where we were welcoming some of our neighbours who are on the street… And we’re now at a place where we’re saying: ‘This is important to us; what happens to other people who are our community needs to be a part of our lives as well.'”
Santiago said the low-barrier access to the facility is important, as it will mean the community’s most vulnerable people will have a roof over their heads.
The application process through B.C. Housing to get a bed in the facility includes a vulnerability assessment to determine who is most in need.
The residents will include individuals who were sexually abused as children, who have lived in poverty for years and who face mental health issues and addicitons, according to Santiago.
“You don’t have to have all your stuff worked out and figured out before you have a right to have a roof over your head,” Santiago said. “Once you actually start to have some kind of normalcy in life, then you can start working on other things that you are addressing.”
Pastor Ward Draper, with the 5 and 2 Ministries, said he was happy to see the supportive-housing project come to fruition.
“We firmly believe in this project, that we need this housing,” he said.
But he said it is just a start and much more is needed in Abbotsford, where there have been “dramatic increases” in the city’s homeless population.
(Last month’s homelessness count found 271 people experiencing homes, a 79 per cent jump from 2014, when 151 people were found.)
“We definitely need more of these projects and we need them faster,” Draper said. “We’re seeing way too many people die on our streets due to lack of housing and other related issues.
“The situation will not get better at this rate, we’re not catching up at all… It’s beyond catastrophic,” he said.
Editor’s note: The print version of this story stated the original $2.4 million budget for the housing project but did not include the final $5.1 million cost.